After 9/11, Bush/Cheney and an authoritarian national security state ran amok. Vengeance was the byword, and few in the government were careful about who the enemy was. Fear of another humiliating attack on the scale of 9/11, combined with a sociopathic disregard for human rights, drove a torture regime that was authorized from the very top of the government. Clear violations of international laws regarding torture were papered over with “torture memos” from witting fools and toadies in the Department of Justice. A sneeringly unrepentant Cheney would later admit he authorized waterboarding (and worse), a war crime for which the Allies prosecuted the Japanese after World War II. A new president, Barack Obama, elected on a mandate of “change” and a promise of “transparency,” would punish no one for these crimes. Look forward, he said.
But I can’t look forward, not after I read accounts like that of Moazzam Begg, a British Muslim who was illegally kidnapped by our government and tortured at Kandahar, Bagram, and Guantanamo. His book, Enemy Combatant, is an engrossing and enraging story that details the absolute degradation of U.S. military and national security institutions. Racist, vengeful, stupid people being led, at the national political and institutional level, by the type of venal criminals we hung after the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals. As a nation we should be ashamed of what our elected representatives approved in our name.
Yet shame isn’t enough. We need a full accounting of their crimes. Our failure to prosecute political and military leaders implicated in torture is a gross disservice to our Constitution and our ideals. Yes, a few low hanging fruit were punished for their crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the so-called bad apples. But we failed as a nation to get to the roots of the system where the rot is worst. Our tree of liberty is imperiled, its roots rotting, its branches dying, as we collectively fail to get out front on our nation’s accelerating drift into blatant illegality and moral decadence.
From Bush and Cheney to their minions involved in authorizing and administering torture, they should all be sitting before the International Court at the Hague to answer for their crimes. Of course, that won’t happen (both political parties are implicated, as well as major power players within the national security state) but at the very least we as citizens should seek Congressional hearings so we can get a fuller picture of how our democracy was hijacked and violated.
What I have in mind is something like the “Army-McCarthy” hearings of the 1950s before Congress. They accomplished a lot in educating the American people about McCarthy’s crimes and abuses. They led directly to his demise and the end of his communist witch hunts. The “Army- McCarthy” hearings were on TV daily and transfixed the nation. A repeat of such hearings on America’s torture crimes would be fitting and just, but the spineless Democrats from Obama on down have robbed us of even that despite those election promises of “transparency” and “change.”
Until a society names and prosecutes those in power who perpetrated these crimes we will be doomed to continue them. When Obama said we had to look “forward” and then clasped Bush to his breast he was exonerating himself as he continued the atrocities of Bush.
Opposition to the anti-democratic shift by those in power will not succeed until it incorporates naming the offenders of our social contract and demanding their prosecution for their subversion of the U.S. Constitution as well as international law. Until then our society will continue to wander lost in a dark fetid swamp of nihilism.