I had a very full calendar today and was not able to take some time to browse the websites I usually hit until I sat down in the train going home approaching midnight. And then, as happens only very infrequently, I found a post which is simply too important to be a blogpost. It’s an insight into what our nation has become, and how much further it promises to slip. It focuses on the sorts of developments which sit about us and do unrecognized and unthought-about, though at our great peril. It’s offered up as today’s entrée at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. Read it all, twice. But here are some key segments:
My original concern with torture was moral and sprang from Abu Ghraib. It never occurred to me that the US would be doing it before. Poring over all the data, it became simply impossible to deny that Abu Ghraib was not an exception to the rule, but a horrible, predictable result of an existing torture policy that spread beyond the limits Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted. My second concern with torture is that much of our actionable intelligence may have come from it. Think of what that means. Much of it may be as valid as that nuclear bomb in New York City or the notion that Abdallah Higazy was a member of al Qaeda.
We may have entered a world, in other words, where the empirical reality of our national security is less important than the imaginationland that every torture regime will create. We may therefore be sacrificing our liberties for a phantasm created by brutality spawned by terror. We don’t know for sure, of course. But that’s what torture does: it creates a miasma of unknowing, about as dangerous a situation in wartime as one can imagine. This hideous fate was made possible by an inexperienced president with a fundamentalist psyche and a paranoid and power-hungry vice-president who decided to embrace “the dark side” almost as soon as the second tower fell, and who is still trying to avenge Nixon. Until they are both gone from office, we are in grave danger – the kind of danger that only torturers and fantasists and a security strategy based on coerced evidence can conjure up. And since they have utter contempt for the role of the Congress in declaring war, we and the world are helpless to stop them. Every day we get through with them in power, I say a silent prayer of thanks that the worst hasn’t happened. Yet. Because we sure know they’re looking in all the wrong places.
The torture issue is still with us, corrupting our society in the most pernicious and fundamental ways. It rots from within, destroying our institutions and the moral fiber of leaders who succumb to it. Those who dismiss or downplay this issue are dangerously deluded.
My good friends over at the Princeton Theological Seminar have invited me to give some remarks on the evening of November 15. I’ll be talking about the torture issue, how people of faith can address it (specifically how John Donne and William Wilberforce did), and how it is corrupting our national and popular culture. If you’re in Central New Jersey, think about stopping by. I’ll put up more details later.