No Vengeance, Know Justice

Last week, President Bush said that the United States does not torture. Given the significant evidence to the contrary, this was an interesting position to take. I give him enough credit that I don’t think he’s too stupid to understand what he’s saying. Unfortunately, that reflects poorly upon him, because I can come up with no other explanation than the notion that President Bush lied. Perhaps he doesn’t think he’s lying, but only in a “depends on the definition of ‘is'” manner. That makes US national security adviser Stephen Hadley’s admission clarification troubling. Consider:

“The president has said that we are going to do whatever we do in accordance with the law,” the national security adviser said. “But… you see the dilemma. What happens if on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers and based on information associated with that arrest, believed that within four days, there’s going to be a devastating attack on the United States?”

He insisted that it was “a difficult dilemma to know what to do in that circumstance to both discharge our responsibility to protect the American people from terrorist attack and follow the president’s guidance of staying within the confines of law.”

This administration hasn’t found it difficult to decide what to do. The president’s guidance, based on a memo redefining torture, attempts to deny habeas corpus to detainees, and refusal to offer any information on where we house prisoners, make it very clear that any treatment short of death is acceptable. In the cases where death occurs, there’s plausible deniability because we’ll blame it on a few renegade soldiers. I don’t see the confusion here and I think Mr. Hadley’s statement confirms that the president doesn’t, either.

More importantly, Mr. Hadley’s September 7th dilemma is crap. We knew something was in the works before then, but failed to act through government bureaucracy and ineptitude. Our security officials missed the link, whether it was ignoring FBI memos warning of suspicious activity or presidential avoidance in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The intelligence gathering system worked as designed. Somehow, Mr. Hadley and everyone involved with this administration seems to forget that. That they do and that their immediate, unapologetic response is to beat the shit out of captives, whether convicted of a crime against the United States or not says a lot about President Bush’s leadership and adherence to American ideals.

The proper response isn’t even hard. Senator John McCain introduced an amendment legally binding the United States to existing policy on prisoner treatment, which President Bush explained was already our method. The amendment passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but it’s stuck in the House due to Vice President Cheney’s insistence that the CIA be exempted. Why do they need to be exempted? The question aswers itself.

I’ve stated before that “enhanced interrogation techniques” torture is not only immoral, it’s also stupid policy. So consider Sen. McCain’s argument against torture:

“I hold no brief for the terrorists,” he said. “But it’s not about them. It’s about us. This battle we’re in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from the most fervent anti-American hack, no one denies that the terrorists we face are scum. I knew that immediately on the morning of September 11, 2001. Like a million of my fellow citizens, I fled Washington, D.C. that day, fearful of what else might be on its way. On September 13th, I went back to work. In those two days, and in the following days and weeks, I witnessed what every person in America witnessed in our collective response to the unthinkable. We’re not scum. We’re better than those who murdered so many of our citizens and those who wish to murder again. We behaved in a way consistent with our ideals then. We didn’t need memos, we didn’t need guidance. We just did. We should again. The only unknown is whether or not the Bush administration will rejoin the rest of us before tarnishing our great country any further.