Here’s the current GOP talking point, distilled to its essence: What’s way worse than waterboarding and rectal feeding is the public admission that we did waterboarding and rectal feeding.
More GOP talking point essence: OK, maybe we did deprive some prisoners of sleep for 180 hours by keeping them in painful positions with their hands shackled over their heads, and, OK, maybe we did drag some of them naked up and down corridors as we beat them, and, OK, maybe one guy did die of hypothermia, and, OK, maybe 20 percent of the prisoners were wrongfully held in the first place, and, OK, on the rectal feeding thing, maybe we did shove pureed food up prisoners’ rectums for no medical reason, and, OK, maybe the CIA did lie repeatedly about what it was doing….but what’s really outrageous is that we’re saying it publicly.
Most Republicans – with a few notable exceptions, like John McCain – are incensed about the Senate report, released yesterday, that documents our nauseating human rights abuses during the Bush era. Even though America is ultimately strengthened when we air our mistakes and learn from them, the Republicans don’t seem to get that. They’re way more upset about the transparency than about the torture.
Some of them claim that the sole purpose of the report’s release is “to embarrass George W. Bush…a partisan tactic…ideologically motivated.” But their main claim is that the torture report will tick off America’s enemies and trigger violence abroad. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: “This will cause violence and deaths.” Senator Mark Kirk: “We may actually lose Americans now because of this report.” Senator Lindsey Graham, who claims to favor the release, nevertheless says: “Don’t release it now, because the world is on fire.”
But the world is always on fire. We can’t use that as an excuse to bury our dirty laundry.
And iff terrorists want to “cause violence and deaths,” they certainly don’t need a Senate report to stoke their anger. They can cite Bush’s inexcusable invasion and occupation of Iraq, a Muslim country that had nothing to do with 9/11. They can cite Barack Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and the innocent civlians who have become collateral damage. They can invoke Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. They can cite our support for authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They need to be defeated, of course – but the truth is, we have often fed their ire against us, and made it tougher to defeat them.
Meanwhile, we have to hold ourselves accountable. That should still be the American way.
We have to face the fact that (according to the Senate report) a lot of the CIA interrogators had “documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature – inclusing histories of violence and abusive treatment of others” – which contradicts CIA director Michael Hayden’s 2007 claim (or, to be more precise, his lie) that “all those involved in the questioning of detainees have been carefully chosen and carefully screened.” We have to face the fact that Bush, the ostensible commander in chief, was kept in the dark until 2006. (Bush, in June 2003; “the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading the fight by example…and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.”)
And, most importantly, we have to face the fact that, for all the waterboarding, rectal feeding, naked shackling, and beatings, at “no time did the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence.” So says the Senate report. Dick Cheney disagrees with that conclusion, but hey, if you want to go stand with the likes of Cheney, knock yourself out.
Cheney has company, of course. Fox News host Andrea Tantaros went ballistic about the Senate report, in a fashion that tells you all you need know about Fox News: “The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome. The reason (Senate Democrats) want the discussion is not to show how awesome we are. It’s to show us how we’re not awesome.”
Actually, it’s to show that we’re different than our enemies. We’re strong enough to self-examine in public, to debate ends and means and reconnect with our best values, to be the open society that still attracts people worldwide. These are the things that truly make us awesome. It’s like what John McCain said yesterday: “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow….(But) we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”
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