If you had any doubt that the heart is just pump and muscle, consider Dick Cheney whose new heart has had no impact on his twisted view of morality. Of course, it might just be that, in finding the replacement, his doctors were able to locate a perfect match, a donor who had also thought torture was both okay and justified. In any event, the former Vice President has invented his own definition of torture. “Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11”, he declared on Meet the Press. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.” Cheney is at total peace with himself, totally self-satisfied, convinced he holds The Truth. And so, he went on, “I would do it again in a minute”. I was thinking he probably meant in a heartbeat, but maybe that’s too close to the chest.
The long delayed release of the Senate committee’s executive summary came with a spirited floor speech by the outgoing Intelligence Chair Diane Feinstein followed by a passionate endorsement by John McCain. For all his hawkishness — never a war he doesn’t want to enter — the senator from Arizona, unlike Cheney, knows something about torture and has always been a vocal opponent. With that notable exception, like everything in Washington these days, the reaction to the report has been mostly along partisan lines. Republicans denounce it while Democrats support it. Of course, the torture carried out in dark places, however disturbing, is just a part of a more far reaching problem that began with those 3,000 plus tragic deaths in 2011. We are a different place, as codified in the regressive Patriot Act. Remember it had bipartisan support at both its inception and renewal. The legislation gives broad license to excess from detaining people and assuming their guilt before being charged (often holding them in that limbo for years on end) to the NIA’s aggressive Orwellian eavesdropping. And then there are the drones that reign their terror on as many or more innocents as they do combatants, “antiseptic” weapons that leave no powder marks on our fingers.
All of it makes us angry, but not so angry that we have done very much, if anything, about it. Aside from paying lip service, if that, to our repulsion, we are shockingly disengaged. With a voluntary military, we have no loved one on the front line, no real skin in the game. We tell ourselves that this has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with the Cheney’s of our world. Not everything and certainly not solely. The post 9/11 hysteria used to justify our country’s “patriotic” actions was shared by the public. Just fix it, we said, and don’t bother us with the gory details. Do whatever you have to do. And we say amen to claims of American exceptionalism never measuring them against our less than exceptional and inconsistent actions. Our leaders insisted on donning American flag pins, and we never called them out on their obviously cheap patriotic theater.
The Senate report added some new details to the torture story but let’s not pretend we were unaware of what was afoot. The facts of waterboarding et al were widely know and sanctimoniously denounced during Bush’s first term. No one, not the president, vice president, CIA director or countless legal counsels, ever paid any price for what clearly was beyond the legal. More to the point, it is so contrary to what we claim to be American ethics and tradition. Everyone, except the Cheney cohort, knows it is terribly wrong, but even the president who ended the practice has effectually swept these bad deeds under the rug. And again, let’s be honest, that’s exactly where we wanted them, hoped they would stay. “Pardon us and remember your manners. We’re having dinner now — no talk of politics, religion and certainly not the morality of torture.” Any way, we didn’t do that; it was the government, the Blue Meanies outside our snug little submarine. Yes, and I have a bridge to sell you.
We justify what we’ve done, or what others have done in our name, because we largely buy into the idea that every threat to us, especially of Muslim origin, is existential, when its not. This is not to diminish the challenges of an ISIS, but despite whatever rhetoric and actions are directed against us, we are not their primary targets. Their fight is within Islam and for its domination. We are, as I wrote in an earlier post, a convenient foil masking their singular agenda, to rule not the world but Islam. Can we avoid doing the self-destructive by imposing ourselves where we don’t belong? Apparently not, because the train on which our policies ride has long left the station. We’re pulled along, including the president who promised and wanted out, because it’s far easier to start hostilities than to stop them. War and conflict has a life of it’s own, like that giant Space Odyssey computer Hal who was intent on taking control, and almost did. Apparently no one has the courage to stop this Hal, and no one — that’s all of us — is honestly supporting such action. We were scared of the consequences, imagined or real, just as we have been since Dick Cheney et al warned us of terror and mushroom clouds.
I just wrote about racism and protests that probably and sadly will run their course in an America that is attention span poor. The Sunday talk show a news focus on torture will abate. After all, important things like a new and sure to be unproductive Congress will be taking hold in but a few weeks. Then there will be an endless presidential race, who’s up and who is down, to distract us further, but probably not induce us to vote. Ah vote. What a bother. Who wants to go on record in taking responsibility for our actions, for what OUR country is doing, and for the moral lapse that is our own. Yes, we may get the best government that money can buy, but in our enabling silence and failure to vote we also are getting the kind of government that we sadly deserve.