What we’ve done to “keep us safe” has been not just immoral, but counterproductive. In hot seasons like this, it’s a reminder that our values aren’t to be shrugged off.
Yesterday, The Guardian published an article detailing the tortures two Tunisian men underwent in a CIA blacksite in Afghanistan. They were beaten, mock-executed, submerged in frozen water, made to stand in stress positions, sodomized, etc. The kind of stuff you’d expect to hear from one of Asad’s prisons (both father and son), but the kind of thing that has been met with an official eye-roll in America. It happened, and now can we please stop talking about it?
Well, anyway, that’s the centrist line on it (including, to an extent, Barack Obama). The Republican line is predominantly: hell yeah, we should do it again. The current standard-bearer for the party thinks that we should torture and “a lot worse”, which is a strange formulation. There are two sides to this: the one that thinks we need to go dark to fight the forces of darkness and keep us safe, a real phony Jessup sort of mentality, and the other side, which is more represented by Trump, which is: screw Muslims, and also screw liberals. If it makes them mad I’m all for it. These sides intermix, of course.
In a way the centrists are much worse. The right-wingers are hopelessly small-minded, petty ignorant bigots, deplorable idiots. It’s the “can we talk about something else” brigade that enables this blood-soaked ignorance to go on. It’s because they don’t want to think about it, want to move on, and not consider the things that America has done. And, anyway, they did it to keep us safe, so we have nothing in common with the Butcher of Damascus, right?
Into that nonsense steps Karen Greenberg, again. Greenberg, whose excellent book Rogue Justice I had the pleasure of reviewing a few months ago, had a post the other day on Tomsdispatch.com in which she laid out a simple truth: none of that actually worked.
As it turned out, those heavy-handed government policies meant to pry our lives open in an invasive and expansive way, torture information from suspects, and lock away people forever, it seems, without charges or trial, were remarkably counterproductive and ineffective — and that reality, rather than the concerns of civil libertarians, was essential to whatever backswing of the pendulum we’ve seen in recent years.
In a way, it is a sobering message for civil libertarians. It wasn’t so much the activism that stopped this, as much as the knowledge among pros that the programs were arrant nonsense that hurt more than they helped. The same security apparatuses that decided on these methods than decided against them, which means there is no real mechanism in place if people in the future, who maybe say are appointed by a know-nothing tyrant with macho fantasies born from being an ineffective creampuff of a man his whole life, assumes office. That’s scary.
But on the other hand, it’s nice to know that, as she says, “the liberties designed almost a quarter-millennium ago by the Founding Fathers still turn out to be curiously well-aligned with the security of this country and the safety of Americans.” That’s an important lesson. All that stuff that kept us mostly safe for hundreds of years can still do so. Smart, legal, intelligence work is what works best. The juvenile 24 fantasies of draft dodgers and weekend warriors don’t do anything except enable amoral CIA violence-junkies to live out their psychopathies. We can be safe, relative to the realities of life, without having to sacrifice what has made us free. Anyone offering differently is at best an ignorant fool, a charlatan, or an outright lunatic. Anyone who says we should ignore these lessons for the sake of some kind of ear-covering conformity is an enabler to injustice, and an advocate of insecurity.