When I wrote my eighth thriller, Inside Out, in 2009, the villains were a group of CIA and other government officials who colluded to destroy a series of tapes depicting Americans torturing war-on-terror prisoners. The plot was of course based on actual events, and I considered naming one of the characters Jose Rodriguez, the Director of the National Clandestine Service at the time the actual tapes were destroyed. In the end I decided against real names, though, because, after all, the characters in the book were committing terrible crimes, and to name them after real people seemed a recipe for a libel suit.
I needn't have worried. Since Inside Out was published, former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney have confessed to ordering waterboarding in their respective memoirs, with no repercussions, legal or otherwise. And now former Director Rodriguez, in his own memoir, has himself confessed to ordering the destruction of the videotapes that were the basis for the plot of my novel. He understands -- correctly, I'm sure -- that he will face no more legal action or damage to his reputation than did the president or vice president. Such are the times we live in. After all, President Obama disavowed torture on his second day in office. No, this was not good news. It merely ratified the idea that torture, illegal by treaty and U.S. law, is not in fact a crime, but rather merely a policy, which some presidents will permit and others prohibit, entirely at their discretion. And indeed, although Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged during his confirmation hearings what everyone already knew -- that waterboarding always has been and always will be torture -- no one has since been charged or prosecuted for ordering it or carrying it out.
Is waterboarding torture? The Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi Gestapo, and the Khmer Rouge all used it. And previous U.S. cases have all ruled that waterboarding is inarguably torture. And it's hard to imagine that any American, Rodriguez included, would argue waterboarding isn't torture if the tapes in question depicted Iranian or Chinese agents waterboarding captured American pilots. Just a dunk in the water? A little discomfort, no big deal, all's fair?
But Rodriguez says waterboarding isn't torture, at least when it's Americans doing it, that it merely makes victims "uncomfortable." He also says it's vital for U.S. national security that we continue to waterboard terror suspects. So: why not a torture Turing Test? If Rodriguez can continue to maintain that waterboarding isn't torture even while being waterboarded, he would be infinitely more persuasive. I wonder why Rodriguez, and so many other apologists with so much on the line, refuse to make this extremely persuasive point? After all, they say waterboarding causes no permanent harm. It's just a dunk in the water, a no brainer, merely uncomfortable, no big deal at all. Are these people not patriots? Why won't they submit to an easy dunk and demonstrate powerfully and persuasively and once and for all for everyone to see that waterboarding isn't torture, and thereby make a more powerful case that America should continue doing it? You know, like rightwing talk show host Mancow did.
It's bad enough high government officials like Rodrigez get away with murder, sometimes literally. It becomes even more galling when they justify their self-interested destruction of evidence of their crimes by claiming the destruction was necessary to protect America. Remember the English lord in the film Braveheart, showing up with men-at-arms to rape the bride at a Scottish wedding, and describing the act as a way to "bless this marriage"?
I don't know which bodes worse for the future of the republic. That officials like Rodriguez can claim such stunningly self-interested reasons for having destroyed the evidence of their crimes. Or that the public is credulous enough to believe them.
Follow Barry Eisler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/barryeisler