We tortured.

April 20, 2009


In the last couple of weeks, it has been officially revealed beyond doubt, first from the Red Cross, and then from the Bush Torture Memos, that we tortured. It has been revealed not to be the actions of a few rogue soldiers or CIA agents, but official policy from the highest levels of the Bush Administration, with lawyers fabricating legal opinions to justify the breaking of treaties, betrayal of values, and hypocrisy.

This did not occur simply in the aftermath of 9/11 (the “ticking time bomb”), but endured after the 2004 election into 2005 as well. Nor was it a rare occurrence, but was used (as far as we know) more than 180 times in one month on one person. This was an official policy, not just in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, but in numerous other black sites.

Our torture techniques were the same techniques, with the same legal justifications, that we have condemned and legally prosecuted in numerous other regimes, from Nazi Germany to communist Russia, to the dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984, to various other totalitarian or oppressive regimes. We used techniques that, admittedly, were illegal in United States territory but could safely be ignored outside of it.

Now that all has been revealed, it can no longer be argued. Now, the only thing left to us is what kind of response we will have. Various outlets of conservatism have had no response, or have fumbled to continue justifying these actions in the name of ticking time bombs and arbitrary actions averted, for which there is now evidence that no such aversions were the goals of these programs.

No. Those on the right have been too concerned with announcing that Barack Obama is a fascist. I’ve seen statements that he has taken over the economy with steps similar to those by Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

Do you see the parallels here? It’s fascinating to see what the two sides of American politics value, these days. The right is interested in the free market working itself out, as if it has shown evidence that it is capable of doing so. It’s angry that Obama is raising the budget by minuscule percentages, compared to last year’s under Bush, angry that he is cutting defense budgets (though the overall defense budget is actually going up), angry that he wants to raise taxes by 3% on wealthy Americans, and angry that he is bothering to look back at the torture issue.

It is frightening to me that, even though he has insisted upon releasing these memos and allowing the discussion to be held, he does not appear to be interested in taking any action. The lawyers and political officials who structured these policies are war criminals, and are not being treated as such. The logical conclusion of this is that there is a precedent that torture will not be prosecuted. This may come back to us in another administration, or after another event, or at some other unknown time, but I think it will come back if we do not make it known that this is unacceptable.

So anyway: when the right is angry about these things, it accuses him, and has tea parties to accuse him, of being both a fascist and a socialist, which is an entertaining use of two incompatible words that most Americans don’t really understand. The left, of course, spent years accusing Bush of fascism, for overwhelming expansion of executive power, illegal surveillance, propaganda, militarism, and torture, among other things.

I’ve said before that we do not have the option of small government in present-day American politics. We have a choice between two different kinds of big government. Each side views the other as fascist, and maybe socialist. Neither side really seems to know what either word means. But each side values entirely different things.

And here is the point: these last few days mark a time in history in which the State, in all its structures of power on both sides, has put itself in opposition to the Cross. We who live by that Cross – whether we voted for Obama and have been pleased with the positive steps he has taken, or not – cannot ignore this moment.