I was going to keep my damn mouth shut today, because, well, my attitude toward the news is May his name be blotted out! and it’s kind of hard to shake a grogger at your computer every few minutes. Then:
There is this:
“Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.”
“Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed…I’d do it again to save lives.”
– Former President George W. Bush, during a speech and question-and-answer period at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Like bringing flowers to your mama and tracking dog shit all over the floor,” I suppose. The flowers may smell nice but what’s smeared all over the floor is going to fester in your nostrils a lot longer. And take time to clean up. And if those reports are true—that torture-driven information was, in some way, critical to this operation—then that’s all we’ve done. And in that case, then no, it was not worth it.
I believe that I hate Osama bin Laden. But I don’t hate him for the deaths—though those are appalling, and I know that at one point, a decade ago, I did. I only hate him for the deaths insofar as they were a prerequisite for what he led this nation to do to itself. I hate him because he gave us the excuse to become torturers; to condone it; to rejoice in it; to drink of its poisons and pretend that it is gladdening our hearts. Because, as we responded to him, we found ourselves moving closer to him.
Abe Greenwald wants questions. I have one: Did you think carefully and read the fine print before you sealed that bargain with the Devil? Because you can bet your eternal soul that he’ll come around to collect his due.
As I wrote six months ago, but won’t better here:
For me, it has been the revelation of the corruption of this Forever War: torture, hollowing of language, subversion of core rights—those are the three key elements for me, in descending order of importance. Torture is a moral rot distinct from all others. For the Austrian/French intellectual Jean Amery, whose essay on torture should be required reading by anyone who wants to discuss, let alone debate, the subject, “torture is the most horrible event a human being can retain within himself.”
When arguments are offered defending torture as an essential part of the war effort, when torture and the broader war effort are corrupting our language, and when, over the course of The Forever War, we see a steady increase in the support of torture—until most of the nation, apparently, supports it—the only response I can muster is to say it is too much. If The Forever War feeds not just moral rot, but this breed of moral rot, then it is time to quit. One day, I will have children, and I fear for their growing up in a nation that practices and accepts torture more than in a world where Iran has a nuclear weapon.
The revelation of torture and the vehemence of its supporters is the revelation that the United States is not inherently good, but is good only by choice. We can choose to be bad, to make the world a worse place, and perpetual war leads us in that direction.
I hate Osama bin Laden because the war we undertook to find him, to kill him, to stop his following of death-worshippers from doing us any further harm changed the character of our nation for the worse. I hate him because I felt no joy, no gladdening of the heart, no satisfaction, no closure at the news of his death, but could only hear this song, this “little phrase” of the piano:
I hate Osama bin Laden. But if we had to torture to find him, then I hate even more who we became in that process. Not because we are worse, but because we’re supposed to be better–because I know that we can, and we must, be better.
Yimmach sh’mo v’zikhro