Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We Tortured, Part III: False Equivalencies and "Vengeance"

This false equivalency makes me crazy. John P. Avlon on President Obama's first 100 days:
On the ugly front, President Obama’s attempts at post-partisanship have come under fire from the left as well as the right. But for every Democrat who’s counseled a blood-sport approach to the majority, bipartisanship be damned, conservative activists seem to have made a strategic decision to double down on hyperpartisanship armed with hysterical accusations about our nation being on the road to tyranny. This is unhelpful and intellectually dishonest—and it’s out of touch with the desire of most Americans to move toward a common ground, problem-solving approach to governance. The temptation of some liberal activists to push for torture trials or a truth commission only offers the mirror image of this divisive, destructive approach to American politics.
I don't know how someone whose opinions are apparently worth publishing on the Daily Beast (or anywhere, for that matter) could reach such a manifestly stupid conclusion. Baselessly accusing the president of "tyranny" is simply not the same as accusing the last administration of breaking the law, which the evidence overwhelmingly suggests is just the case. David Broder's disgusting Washington Post column from last week made the same cringeworthy argument:
But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more -- the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps -- or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability -- and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance. Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger.


That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice.
I don't even know where to begin with this disaster. Immediately offensive is the condescending tone and the assumption that David Broder can read the minds of those calling for investigations - they say they want accountability, but really, they're just all hyperpartisans.

But more importantly: there is overwhelming evidence to show that Bybee, Yoo, Addington, and others in the administration defied clear legal precedent when they drafted these memos (see, in addition to the cases I have already cited, the 1983 prosecution of Texas police for waterboarding a suspect by the Reagan Justice Department), and yet somehow we are to let them walk away? There is strong reason to believe they broke federal and international law. When the actions of the previous administration were illegal, it is appropriate to investigate! If we don't investigate this, what offense committed by an adminstration could we ever investigate? How could this be any more obvious? And why are Broder and Avlon attacking the people who are trying to uphold the law, rather than those who are being apologists for torture?

As Daniel Larison
said recently, I'm beginning to think we don't even live in the same moral universe. It's unbelievable. (And he's worth quoting at length.)

Something else that has kept me from writing much on this recently is the profoundly dispiriting realization (really, it is just a reminder) that it is torture and aggressive war that today’s mainstream right will go to the wall to defend, while any and every other view can be negotiated, debated, compromised or abandoned. I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration.

It's horribly frightening to see how quickly we're willing to abandon the things that make our society worth protecting.

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