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The Legacy of Torture: What would Main Street do?

May 16th, 2009 · 1 Comment

There is heated debate in Washington these days over what to do about our country’s recent unsavory dabbling in torture as an information-gathering strategy.

As with many other instances during the George W. Bush administration in which legitimate duties of government (such as statesmanship) became conflated with and ultimately displaced by punishment, pure and simple, we are all of us coming to realize that Bush-era techniques employed in efforts to extract information from unwilling and even uninformed “informants” went way too far. Not only international conventions but also our own laws and morals were savagely violated by actions taken with a veneer of government approval.

As ever more reeking information continues to seep from the closed drawers of the military and spy agencies, it is clear that the heritage of America’s own dirty war will not go away on its own.

The problem now seems to be what to do about it. Should we go on talk shows and claim that torture wasn’t really torture? Should we-Nuremberg-style-prosecute and punish those who carried out illegal policies endorsed by our then-government? Should we convene a truth and reconciliation commission, so that those who carried out the torture can ‘fess up and hug their surviving former victims? Should we talk the issue onto its deathbed, bury it in paper, smother the legal and moral outrages in subtleties, and move on to health care, global warming and other pressing matters? Or should we see-to paraphrase the late folksinger, Phil Ochs– the pictures of the pain?

What to do? In this case, although I consider myself a progressive, I really would like to see Washington run more like a small business. I ask: “What would Main Street do?”

If I identified an embezzler in my business, I would likely institute controls to identify financial misdeeds earlier and more readily. I might choose not to prosecute the culprit due to concern about publicity. But would I keep the embezzler around to do next season’s taxes?

If I were a small town editor who discovered one of my writers was plagiarizing, I would probably increase my future scrutiny of news stories prior to publishing them. But would I continue to accept articles from the freelancer who burned me?

If I were a carpenter who discovered that a vender sold me wood for a house that was so weakened by wormholes that the house I was building could not stand, I might devise new methods for stress testing my materials before beginning construction. But would I buy again from that vender?

If I, a hapless householder, hire a plumber who recklessly breaks a pipe and lets a stream of sewage spew into my front yard, will I call the guy up again when the garbage disposal stops grinding?

I am not a carpenter or accountant. I do my own cleaning. My business does not earn enough to have employees, let alone ones who embezzle, and my garbage disposal is not broken, but you get the idea.

If I were a new president who discovered his employees had engaged in torture, I would likely devise new methods and policies to keep torture out of government. But would I continue to keep people who authorized it or did it on the payroll?

C’mon. Really? Would you? Would anybody? –buckdata

Tags: American Grotesque · It's about time!

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Iris // May 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Interesting thoughts. BUT (and there always is a but) here is the problem, that I see, with wanting to avoid publicity and not prosecuting the culprits and just putting additional controls in place:
    we had controls and they should have been enough to prevent what has happened.
    Lawmakers were informed and now they claim that they weren’t told directly enough and even if they had been informed directly, “what should we have done?” so they ask, after all everything had the seal of confidentiality so we couldn’t say or do anything.
    - lawyers were rewarded for coming up with ridiculous opinions to give what we did the flair of lawfulness.
    if we just fire some or even all of the culprits, they will be still around for the next administration to bring them back into the game.
    worse yet, what we saw over the last 8 years was that those who gave the administration what they wanted were rewarded – those who didn’t “play ball” got fired. What does this teach future government employees and those who are asked to do work for the government? I think it is really dangerous to just sweep this all under the carpet and that is exactly what we would do. I think that this paving the road to absolute corruption. Because, if you tell me what you want to do, I can tell you how to get it and if we can bring in some lawyers (and there are enough), they’ll certify for us, that whatever we do is legal. So now we’ re free from responsibility. After all, the ends do justify the means and if that is not enough, we don’t want to embarrass this wonderful and righteous country and if that is not enough, lets just stamp everything “confidential.”
    Just a thought.

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