Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Torture? That's a Plank to Stand On?
I realize that Republicans and the right wing pundits have been rather kicked in the gut by the simple facts of the moment--that President Obama and his military leaders directed a successful--and brilliant--attack on al Qaeda leading to the death of Osama bin Laden, the man who with his military leaders directed a brilliant and successful attack on the United States on September 11, 2001--a moment, it might be noted, when George Bush was President of the United States. The facts are so clear that it might have been, oh what's the word--"patriotic" might suffice--for all the national leaders of substance to have rallied to this moment, more or less as the then minority party, the Democratic Party, rallied to the nation after 9/11. Mr. Obama isn't claiming to have done the raid himself. But he was in the chair, and he made the call. The people of America rallied. There were spontaneous demonstrations of joy all around the country.
But over on the Right there seems to be a veritable chorus of subject-changing, with a strong emphasis on diminishing the plain facts and accomplishments of the Obama Administration in this matter. On Hannity yesterday there was much talk of how torture "worked" and was essential to getting bin Laden, even though it's simply obvious that if torture were the foundation of the successful raid--torture that was done well back in the Bush years--that suggests that Bush failed to use the crucial information at hand. Limbaugh went on a veritable tirade yesterday on this same subject, reviling the Obama Administration and the "Democrat Party," "leftists" all in his view, little short of traitors in his view, capable of nothing in his view--a view which apparently does not include the plain truth of the moment, that Obama gave the order and the Seals got the job done. On Hannity, Rep. Peter King of Staten Island was praising torture to the heavens, with the false argument as his centerpiece of "what if Mohammed Atta could have been tortured...." That's where they're all standing. It's actually so stupid that you'd think one of them would just realize that going down that torture path was always a big mistake, and that once again, at this historical juncture, an opportunity for everyone to just get off the torture bus has presented itself.
I watched an incredible movie last night, Rossollini's "Roma, Città Aperta", known as "Open City" in its English title. It's set in the early occupation of Rome by the Nazis. Towards the end of the movie a partisan is tortured to death. He does NOT give up the information he has. So, then, what if Atta had been tortured? We know he was willing to die for his mission, because he did. Why should we assume that if we just tortured him, he'd break? That's hubris on a Germanic scale. (Indeed, the man who is doing the torturing understands that if the partisan does not break, that implies that he is not of the "master race," and the partisan not of the "slave race." This becomes a desperate concern as the night wears on and the partisan does not yield--Fellini wrote the screen play. Torture assumes exceptionalism.)
One never knows what the months ahead are going to yield. Possibly the successful killing of Osama bin Laden will have faded into a distant memory by the summer of 2012. Republicans have been very good at changing the subject over the past thirty or so years. But at the moment the fact that it was Republicans who diverted our efforts to respond to bin Laden into an agenda driven war against Iraq--a war that was tremendously costly in lives and treasure and eventually lead to an almost last-ditch effort early in the Obama Administration to retrieve victory from defeat in Afganistan--this diversion, in 2003, is as plain as day. It's not President Obama who's drawing our attention to this either. It draws attention to itself. And the right wing pundits and the right wing Republican politicans see it so vividly that they are jumping up and down trying to divert our attention to not only a red-herring, but a policy--the Bush torture policy--which is itself yet another serious mistake of the Bush years, and a mark of the false hubris which was the Bush Administration's fatal flaw.
As a matter of politics--of theatre if you like--all the GOP needs to do at this juncture is give Obama a standing O. Perhaps we should be glad that they are so stupid, and hope that the nation can see the stupidity for what it is. It's obvious that a standing O would at this point, after all these empty pirouettes, be just that--theatre. Still, you'd think Rove at least would be smart enough to take a higher path.
Footnote: One of the most fundamental points in the moral argument disguised as the ultimate western movie, Pekenpah's "The Wild Bunch," comes when Borgnine objects to Holden's comment (referring to the Mexican General and his German military advisors), "we're just like them." "No we're not," says Borgnine. "We don't hang anybody." Here's a good piece on the problem of rough justice, which no one (and certainly no Republican) dares to talk about:
The tricky part is talking about war as "legal." I've always thought war was actually the end of all civility--legality, if you will--the place where you step across that last line into darkness. Hiroshima, in a word.