I guess the headline of this story from McClatchy, which has featured really great reporting lately regarding the U.S.-held detainees, says it all:
General who probed Abu Ghraib says Bush officials committed war crimes
We've been told by this administration, and President Bush specifically, that "we don't torture." He may prefer that the language be "enhanced interrogation techniques" or some other pleasant-sounding malarkey, but the effects would seem to indicate "torture."
And as Lawrence Wilkerson has pointed out, some people have died in detention--and their deaths are murder. That is just the word, the ugly word, "murder", that is used when a person is killed by another person. "Torture" can result in "murder." These are very clear concepts.
Culturally, it is generally understood that torture and murder are bad, even evil. In American culture, however, we look at ourselves as being "the good guys." We have had a history of being honorable and straight-dealing. We have had the history of good human rights and civil liberties enjoyed by our citizens. It has been true. And that's why I think confronting what has happened with respects to the treatment of these people has actually resulted in the defense of, and support for, and the covering up of, torture and murder, which are things that as Americans, we never, ever would tolerate being a part of our national reputation.
We've been told that "9/11 changed everything." It certainly did change the consciousness we had about the way we were viewed by some people, and it certainly should have changed how we viewed our intelligence-gathering and analytical capabilities, as well as our foreign policy. It didn't change the Constitution, it did not change the Geneva Conventions, and it did not change what is morally acceptable conduct.
Leaving aside the moral issue, because there will always be those who clamor to remind us that Al-Qaeda and the like are worse than us, which I'll agree with and still insist it gives us no right to lower our standards. I'm not squeamish about seeing a moral absolute there, but if someone is relativistic enough to adopt a "get them before they get us" mentality, I'll even hear out their reasoning. I disagree, but I'm no philosopher. Logically, "get them before they get us" just assumes they're all out to get us. Sowing your field with salt will keep the dandelions away, but it's hell on the petunias. Let's address whether the "enhanced interrogation" was even effective, or even if the tactic were always used for getting information--which the McClatchy investigation articles strongly suggest: they weren't. Detainees were apparently abused in retaliation for 9/11, whether they had anything to do with it or not, and there was no leadership telling guards that it wasn't acceptable. And many people who were exposed to these interrogation techniques were of low information value anyway.
And it may have hurt us in Iraq:
When something like this is so systemic and apparently instutionalized, and when it becomes clear that it was the Bush Administration who went out of their way to find legal rationalization for it, it's hard not to come to the same conclusion the Phillipe Sands does here: It Was Top Down, Stupid.
But what is pretty disturbing is the president's own assessment of it all. I know he's been talked out of ever quite grasping the whole "separation of powers, checks and balances" thing. And he's in apparent denial about how much information is really out there. But take a look at this interview clip:
Asking a valid question about what has really apparantly happened during Bush's watch is "slandering America", but Bush is fine with blaming his administration's authorizing of terror on--the soldiers. His hands, and his conscience, are clean.