Torture and Patriotism
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise” Bishop Berkeley
In spite of the fact that the United States has more great universities than any other nation, from Harvard and MIT in the East, to Duke in the South, Michigan in the North, and Stanford and Berkeley in the West, we remain a raw, barbaric, and proudly ignorant nation.
Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are popular indicators that there are definitely more stupid than smart people here in this great land of ours, and what this means for the rest of us is that our culture is not really founded on ideas, the Enlightenment from Locke to Jefferson, and the Constitution; it is founded on the alpha male primate politics of identity, group loyalty, fear, and violence as a solution to all problems. If we all have brains, in the Good Old USA, it is the amygdala that rules and not the neocortex.
And so we had a War on Poverty, and now have a War on Drugs, and a War on Terror. We cannot conceive of a polity or an economy that is not based on war against a hated and feared Other. Ideologically, we appear on the surface to be democratic; economically in our deep structure, we are plutocratic. Although Big Business calls the shots and shapes the mentality through the media it owns, the loud majority fears Big Government more than Big Business, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks indicated in his April 24th column.
For the eight years of the Cheney and Bush administration, we saw just what happens when this Chimp primate mentality takes over a government founded upon the Enlightenment document of our U.S. Constitution. We had the War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the institutionalization of torture as the due process of law. Clever constitutional lawyers like David Addington and John Yoo used their knowledge and skills to reconstruct torture, not as the hated legacy of the Inquisition that our Founding Fathers as Masons loathed and wished to expel and entomb in the historical graveyard of bad ideas, but as a necessary evil against the Terror that was out to destroy us.
Once the constitutional lawyers had been corrupted, the physicians were next to be injected with this malicious toxin as they were called in to violate their Hippocratic oath and to keep watch over the victims so that they would not die, but could be kept at the edge of life in order that the torture could continue. This new policy was founded on the horrific images of 9/11. Libertarians all around the country, however, insist that 9/11 was, like the Nazi burning of the Reichstag blamed on the Bolsheviks, actually a CIA American attack intended to support a suspension of civil liberties and a declaration of martial law. Libertarian taxi drivers have a handful of DVDs that they give to chatty customers like me to convince us that they are not paranoid weirdos.
A few inches away from the Republican apologetics of David Brooks in the New York Times is the liberal Prolegomena to Any Future Polity of Paul Krugman. This Nobel laureate and Princeton professor is obviously one of the smart people in this vast land of Clear Channel mediums. (If you’ve ever driven a pickup truck around in rural Colorado and New Mexico and tuned in to the local radio station, you will know what I mean.)
Krugman argues for an unrelenting investigation and prosecution of the last administration’s agents of torture. Personally, and on the emotional basis of horror and repulsion, I would like to see David Addington and John Yoo disbarred, and Yoo expelled from his professorship at Berkeley in a reaffirmation of professional ethics, but I back away from the prosecution of Cheney and Bush for the coldest and most calculatingly rational of reasons. I fear the paranoid and populist Right Wingers of this country. If we set a precedent, then every incoming administration of one party will seek to prosecute the previous administration of the opposite party.
Like someone stopping to take his antibiotics before the bottle is empty, thinking his infection is cured, we run the risk of having the Civil War spring back to life with all its ugly hatreds because we never really healed ourselves of that malady in either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Libertarians are paranoid and that 9/11 was not an American burning of the Reichstag. But those DVDs are out there in circulation, and they certainly could inspire some cabal of right wing and racist paramilitary nuts to create another seemingly Islamist terrorist attack and blame it on Obama to say that at least under Cheney and Bush we were safe. The country would split wide open, and this time it would be the liberal scientific Northeast, and not cowboy Texas, that would want to secede from the rugged individualist politics of the Wild West.
So although I admire Paul Krugman’s ideas, and wish that he and not Larry Summers were the economics guru to the President, I back away from his vigorous moral crusade, fearing that in the enantiodromias of history in which one movement turns into its opposite, this campaign will achieve the opposite of what it intends. We will risk turning a cultural cold war into a hot civil war.
Yes, we are, or should be, a nation under the rule of law, so the investigation should continue to expose the metastatic extent of this cancer in our polity. But we should stop short of trying to prosecute Cheney and Bush—even though I believe them to be the guilty culprits who are responsible for the policy of torture. We need something closer to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, rather than the trials of the Shah’s SAVAK torturers that created the new foundation for the tyranny of the Ayatollah’s theocratic Iran.
If we were to prosecute Cheney and Bush, then it should be for treason in lying to the assembled government of Congress and the Supreme Court and violating their oaths of office. Perhaps, then, the Conservatives might see that the neocons did not conserve but betrayed their country and its constitution, and then Libertarian and Leftist could unite in saving our country from its decline.