Direct criticism at those who OK’d torture

Said a chief prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials: “As an International Military Tribunal, it … seeks guidance not only from international law but also from the basic principles of jurisprudence which are assumptions of civilization and which long have found embodiment in the codes of all nations.”

Comes now the Senate report on the torture that was done in our name. After reading it (there’s an interactive “Cliffsnotes” version, there can remain no doubt that George Bush lied when he told the world “The U.S. doesn’t torture.” You can think it’s horrible, or you can thump your chest with pride that we’re as hardcore as anyone; but you can’t deny the lie. You might have decided what we did in the aftermath of 9/11 — out of fear, or panic, or the best of intentions, or, as George Bush claimed, on instructions from God — was justified and righteous. You might reject the conclusion that “we” forsook the most basic of American values, tossed away that which once separated us from the worst of humanity; you might, as have many, even before Dianne Feinstein was done reading the report into the record, find nothing wrong with what we did, only with those revealing it.

You might believe, like me, (decidedly in the minority according to,, that our torture program diminished our greatness, did us only harm, debased our standing in the world, and removed forever our once-justified claims to the moral high ground; or, like Mr. Bush, you might want to change the subject, praising the brave men and women of the CIA, suggesting the report is intended only as denigration of those people, as opposed to a way toward illumination of the sort of state in which we’ve come to live, good and bad, potential and actual; a means of facing fundamental questions, given ephemeral mention after the attacks of 9/11, of the balance between freedom and security, of government as protector or deceiver.

Wherever you stand on the morality or necessity of torture, one thing ought finally to be unassailably clear: Bush and Cheney’s program didn’t work. Period. Which isn’t surprising. Torture never has been a vehicle for obtaining the truth: since the racks of the Inquisition and the drownings in Salem, the waterboarding by the Khmer Rouge and the KGB, torture’s timeless gift to the world has always been the coercion of false confessions. Ask Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose outrage at our program is pure, and nearly singular on his side of the aisle. In fact, in the report we learn that one captive hauled to a “black” site in (redacted), after days of brutal torture, gave what was demanded of him: claims of Saddam’s WMD stockpile and connection to al-Qaida. The ones used to justify the war. The ones enumerated by Colin Powell at the UN. The ones later recanted by the man, admitting he said what he needed to say, lied to make the torture stop.

To the surprise of exactly zero people, Fox “news” and the rest of right wing media are united in their outrage. Not at the torture. At the fact it was revealed. Not about the impact and implications of the actions; at the airing of them. The Cheney approach, father and daughter.

Remember the 1970s Congressional investigation of CIA excesses, headed by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho? The coordinated attacks that came his way, orchestrated in part by a couple of President Ford’s men, names of Cheney and Rumsfeld? Shall this be the ultimate fate of the current report, vilifying those who provided it, ignoring the substance? Or might we yet have a clear-headed, non-Foxolimbagian disputation about whether open society and democracy, ruled by law, have an inherent protective power of their own, worth saving, in the longest run transcending even military might; or are they now merely quaint and obsolete indulgences of a naïve past?

The report makes a point of not directing eyes where they belong: not on those who tortured, but those who authorized and then lied about it. By treaty (signed by Ronald Reagan) and definitions at the time, these were war crimes requiring punishment. Do we address it, or ought we just define it away and move on?

Sid Schwab is a surgeon and Everett resident. He writes occasionally for The Herald.

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