"Abu Ghraib 57" (Artwork: Fernando Botero)
They say that the first casualty of war is truth, but they are wrong. The first casualty of war - is reality. In war, the unreal becomes real and the lie becomes truth.
- John Cory
On Tuesday evening, I watched Anderson Cooper and Bill O'Reilly utter the same euphemism for torture. "Harsh" techniques, they said. And then, to each of their guests they posed the question of whether or not these "harsh interrogation techniques" worked and shouldn't that be an important part of judging their merit? I felt dirty just listening to them.
Harsh interrogation techniques, coercive tactics, enhanced techniques - These are the rebranding tools for torture. In order to avoid turning our eyes away or burying our heads in the sand, we grab politically acceptable words and terms to diminish the sting and shame of actual torture, so we can brag about being a moral society open to the discussion of stressful questioning of enemy combatants. Sterile words remove us from the very real sins of torturing human beings. And the more we become adept at anesthetic language, the easier it becomes to talk without vomiting when we speak our sins aloud. The easier it becomes to torture. The easier it becomes to maintain the nobility of torture as a tool of patriotism.
The talking heads on television now preen and prep to define reality. Torture is not the issue, they say. The politics of torture is the issue and that is the shiny object we should all be focused on. This is political. Right versus left, not right versus wrong.
The Republicans tell us that torture is legal if the Justice Department and the president say it is. Nixon said if the president does it, it is not illegal. But the ensuing investigations and judgments proved him wrong. This time around, the president generated supportive judicial opinions, so that everyone could wave a paper in America's face and say, "See, it's all legal. The Justice Department says so. It is not torture in the strictest legal definition because there is no organ failure or death. God bless America. Amen."
If torture (harsh interrogation) works - why does it take 183 times to get results? Does it wear off after the first five times? Like a bad inoculation? Or did the prisoner just forget the question while he was choking to death and so you had to keep repeating everything?
Republicans and FOX News tell me that President Obama has disgraced and endangered America by smiling and shaking hands with Hugo Chavez, a particularly despicable character. But incorporating the practices of the KGB and Communist China in our interrogation of enemy combatants is the American thing to do. We hate the Evildoers of the world except for those wonderfully effective torture techniques they use.
They tell us that torture is the only way to avoid another 9/11. Haven't we kept America safe since that awful day? Thanks to torture, no one has attacked us since. Never mind that we didn't pay attention to the threat previously, or that we lost focus because the warnings came from Clinton and he was not a real President. Or that Richard Clarke and others shouted about their hair being on fire over the possibility of an attack. No one could have imagined such a thing. No one. Except of course the people who put it in memos that were ignored.
But that was the past and this is the present. Do not look back in anger. Look to the future. Torture is the only way to protect us, to keep us safe. Torture will teach them not to dare think of another attack. It is revenge for what the Evildoers have wrought upon democracy, but even more importantly, it is the sword of justice that will lay waste to our enemies.
We are all Jack Bauer now. The ticking time bomb is out there and we need torture to save America. The threat is imminent. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
There are voices telling us that "enhanced interrogation techniques" work, that multiple plots and potential attacks have been averted, secret incidents that cannot be revealed for reasons of national security. Voices intone the gravity of having released these memos authorizing torture that now tell the enemy what to expect and how to defend themselves against these "harsh" techniques. But these warnings and complaints come from the same men who willing revealed the identity of a covert CIA agent for political gain, an agent who was protecting America.
For 60 years, America has denounced the torture tactics of our enemies as being criminal. From WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam to the Iraq War, torture was evil. We invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam because he was evil and tortured his people. We denounced the torture of POWs in Hanoi and pointed out that torture only served a propaganda purpose. And now, we say torture is not torture because we do it humanely. If America tortures, it is not the same as Communists and tyrants and Islamic fundamentalists. There is good torture and bad torture. America defines the difference.
And so, the great talking heads and pundits of the media village will inoculate us against guilt and anger by explaining the game of politics and morality. The game of semantics will numb our indignation if we just listen to their soothing voices in the darkness that has become America. They will calm our troubled hearts. They will ease our pain and whisper the words we so desperately want to hear, "There, there, you are America. You are good. You are special. You do not torture. You simply protect us from the monsters under the bed. Hush now, don't look in the mirror; just close your eyes and everything will be all right."