Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Torture Scapegoats

Dick Cheney continues his media blitz, which according to him, is intended to protect military operatives and government employees from prosecution for their role in our little torture phase. Protecting those who carry out orders that turn out to be unlawful from being prosecuted is indeed a noble cause. But the way Cheney is going about this makes no sense.

For one thing, if Bush and Cheney knew all along that the methods being used on prisoners had been cleared by their lawyers, why did they allow the soldiers who were caught up in the Abu Ghraib scandal to be prosecuted and put away? Couldn't they have used the memos from their own administration to clear their names and save their military careers? And if Cheney is so concerned with protecting military operatives, why isn't he talking about these soldiers now? Whatever happened to people like Ivan Frederick, Charles Graner, and Lynndie England? It's somewhat understandable that Cheney wouldn't have spoken up during the scandal and the subsequent trials. To do so would probably have endangered the torture program to which he was so deeply committed. But now that the jig is up and it's clear that these people were not just some rogue group who were misbehaving, but instead simply acting according to the accepted standards and military prison culture of the time period, it seems deeply unfair that their plight is deemed irrelevant. If you think about it, they actually sacrificed a great deal for the Bush-Cheney crew. They gave up their careers and their honorable standing and years of their lives so that the Bush administration could portray the Abu Ghraib situation as an isolated incident rather than the norm. Cheney should not only be fighting to overturn their convictions, but should be nominating them for medals for outstanding service to and sacrifice for their country.

I suspect that Cheney views the Abu Ghraib folks as a lost cause in a way that he doesn't view torture in general as a lost cause. This has a lot to do with the info and images available to us. During the Abu Ghraib scandal we were inundated with offensive photos of guards posing with prisoners in humiliating and painful positions, and even with dead bodies. Once these kinds of images have worked their way into the public imagination, the chances of gaining approval for the practices involved are quite slim. Perhaps it's the wisdom of repugnance. If looking at a photo or hearing a detailed description of the treatment of prisoners makes you cringe, you're probably going to conclude that we ought not to be acting this way. And rightfully so. It often does seem like our deepest and strongest intuitions are a reliable moral guide. So Cheney is wise to let the ghost of Abu Ghraib rest. But if he wants us to believe in his integrity and the purity of his motives, clearing the names of the guards of Abu Ghraib ought to be his first concern.


  1. Anonymous5/14/2009

    You forgot about Nancy Pelosi. What did she know and when did she know it?

  2. Anonymous,

    According to Pelosi she was misled by the CIA. And you may or may not believe that - I guess time will tell as more documents are released.

    However, it's clear that Cheney not only knew about the interrogation techniques in use, but he was the one pushing for them even when the operatives themselves did not want to use them or think they would be helpful. So far the evidence shows that all the documents and orders pushing torture came directly from his office. And forcefully imposing a policy is quite different from knowing about it but feeling that you can't prevent it. So if he's so concerned with protecting those operatives who did his bidding, where was he when these people were in court, and why isn't he calling for their convictions to be overturned now?

  3. You're totally right about this. I wonder why nobody in the MSM is asking him about this. Except, of course, that he only talks to Faux news and the like.