Our Tortured History

The weird thing about the torture memos in the news this week is that I can’t stop thinking about Harry Potter.

In those books, the bad guys – the wizards and witches that had been drawn to the Dark Side – make their case thusly: This isn’t about good and evil, it’s about power and the difference between those who are strong enough to claim it and those who are not.

OK, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe thinking about Harry Potter isn’t the weird thing. The weird thing is how many educated politicians and journalists are criticizing – not the fact that the United States of America made routine torture a policy – but that we have revealed that the policy existed and have promised not to do it again.

“Now we’ve given the terrorists a handbook of what we do and they’ll train their people to resist it,” is one of the common complaints heard on tee vee. Um, no we haven’t given them a handbook, because we just said we weren’t going to do it anymore. Were you not listening?

Besides, it’s not like we invented waterboarding. It’s been around since the Inquisition at least, that’s what? Half a millenium? As the declassified memos make clear, the whole torture handbook was cribbed from techniques used by the Chinese and North Korean communists during the Korean War 50 years before we started using them. Osama has an Internet connection too.

If the Bush people had used the Internet to greater effect, they’d have learned that waterboarding, stress positions, long bouts of sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and all the other stuff doesn’t produce actionable intelligence from prisoners. That was the lesson of Korea. What it does produce are mentally broken individuals who will say whatever they’re told to say, which is why so many American servicemen were made to denounce their homeland. Just ask John McCain.

As the timeline in the memos makes clear, untrue statements from prisoners may have been part of the Bush/Cheney plan. One of the early uses to which this torture was applied was to get prisoners to confess to a link between the 9-11 attacks and Iraq, thus justifying a pre-emptive war George W. Bush wanted to launch since before he took office. So, congratulations George and Dick, you dragged a once-great nation down to the level of 1950s communist propaganda for your own political purposes.

Dick Cheney, the Valdemort in this US/Potter analogy, is the chief spokesperson for the “power and those not afraid to use it” school. In recent interviews, he sneers at those who disagree as weak, unpatriotic and wanting to coddle terrorists. He misses the point and wants us miss it, too. People with a sense of morality are not weak coddlers; they refuse to debase themselves and their nation. People who stand for due process and inalienable human rights are patriots. The difference is not between strong and weak, it’s between good and evil. The difference is clear in the Harry Potter books and it’s equally clear in real life, unless as Upton Sinclair said, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Weird, you want weird? Last week the teabaggers were calling Barack Obama a tyrant and a dictator. This week, Fox News and the other sponsors of that protest are calling Mr. Obama weak because he repudiates torture. Inconsistency is the hallmark of political desperation.

The full extent of our history of torture is still unknown. It needs to be known. We cannot put this behind us until all is revealed. We know Khalid Sheik Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. The first waterboarding must have given Mr. Mohammed a “handbook” of what was to come, but it didn’t stop his torturers from doing it another 182 times. The only explanation for such behavior I can imagine is emotional disturbance that ran all the way to the West Wing of the White House.

Yes, we need to know everything that was done in out name and then we need a national week of mourning and repentance.

© Mark Floegel, 2009

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