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Torture Finally Broke Them

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In the end, torture broke them. They could no longer hold it all back. They now realize that their denial does not add up, and their tormentors become convinced of their guilt.

The Architects of Agony in the name of America are aware that their arrogant era has ended. They've been tortured enough by the questions about torture.

Dick Cheney is suddenly more media accessible than Susan Boyle. The man who personified "undisclosed location" actually wants to release classified documents on coerced interrogations to prove they yielded some pertinent information at some point. That Cheney would abandon his scurrilously low profile and absolved air to abruptly attempt exoneration of anything is salient.

Tricky Dick even broke the code of torturers, and brought family into it: his own daughter Liz Cheney had to have her fragile glass menagerie world smashed on MSNBC by Norah O'Donnell, as she starts to realize that all of these big words she learned from her daddy meant the same thing: torture.

As Arianna noted, this is the Torture Moment. The tide of tolerance for torture has turned so dramatically in just the last week or two, it is difficult to track the many astute points being made:

From Paul Krugman on the importance of the principle that our nation not torture, to Frank Rich archly observing the pedigree of the Bush enablers. From Joan Walsh reminding how Reagan vowed to punish torturers, to Andrew Sullivan overwhelmed by the current case for war crimes. From American interrogators on the flaws of coercion, such as the strain on our soldiers, its use for recruiting future terrorists, or backfiring altogether. From Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio acknowledging the recently released memos as "torture techniques," to Sheppard Smith pounding on his FOX News desk in outrage, "This is America! We do not fucking torture!"

Of course, Sheppard Smith is right; and of course, he is wrong. We all liked to believe America was above barbarism, and President Bush assured us this was so. But the long apparent picture of prisoner abuse as Pentagon policy has panned out in the release of recent papers, and the pendulum shift is perceptible.

After years of denial, pettifogging, claims of national security, kangaroo courts, and subordinate sacrificial lambs, a clearer picture is emerging of how torture was integrated into U.S. policy from the top down, namely Donald Rumsfeld. Other recently declassified memos suggest how many officials were doubtful of the needs or effectiveness of these harsher tactics.

Predictably, many apologists have been quick to urge that the questions end here. Newt Gingrich conveniently forgets his own opposition to torture as he makes the rounds for clemency, Joe Scarborough rationalizes fear and what it makes you do, David Broder alarms us at the awkwardness of asking Bush officials to show up some place at some time and answer questions: "Is that where we want to go? I don't think so."

Arguing against investigation of torture, Peggy Noonan had a Norma Desmond moment on one of those Sunday morning political pud-pulling parties: "Sometimes in life you want to just keep walking...Some of life has to be mysterious."

Noonan, a speech writer for Reagan now plagiarizing Sarah MacLaughlin, seems to have a coy, lady-like sense of human rights violations, like the elder Rose in Titanic: "A woman's heart is a deep ocean with many secrets, and maybe simulated drowning." (Allison Kilkenny is not so kind, suggesting that Noonington gets wet in moments of peril, eager for a burly neo-con to savage her like some Ayn Rand sex scene.)

Porter Goss -- who ran the CIA after having the intelligence to tell Michael Moore in an interview that he did not have the intelligence to qualify for the CIA -- thinks these really intelligent thoughts in the Washington Post: "The bottom line is that we cannot succeed unless we have good intelligence. Trading security for partisan political popularity will ensure that our secrets are not secret and that our intelligence is destined to fail us."

Porter's impertinence aside, I agree with his statement: We cannot succeed if we have good intelligence.

But Porter Goss himself politicizes and oversimplifies the problem, presenting the same false choice that persists through pundits' propped-up percentages of public approval. Polling like, "Is the use of torture justified when it will totally save the country from evil forever?"

It's not that we should never torture just because it is bullying, cruel, unjust, illegal, and dehumanizing to all involved. We should never torture because it is the most illogical means of getting information that could be so crucial. It's the inefficacy, stupid.

People will say anything when they are tortured, freely contradicting themselves upon recurring sessions. Our country deserves the most reliable sources of important information, not the mumblings of men in pain who will say whatever they think their interrogators want to hear.

Many have sought to compare the U.S. interrogation methods with medieval practices like in the Inquisitions, but the comparison is not completely apt. Then, torture was used to force people to agree to outrageous beliefs. Italian peasants confessed to witchcraft under torture, because people will say anything to make pain stop. Their information was not being sought--their submission was.

Arguments against
disclosing torture details are based on the same false assumption that any torture tactic is more effective than others at getting people to tell you whatever you want to hear. As Joe Lieberman serves up the latest talking point that investigations into abuses are just a platform for petty payback, justice apparently becomes a relative, partisan concept.

The truth is long overdue. Through a tribunal process of investigation and reconciliation, perhaps these memo writers who put men through hell on earth might forgo criminal prosecution, because that doesn't seem very American.

But you know what does seem more American? A civil lawsuit, suing the guys who authorized torture for millions. Personal injury lawsuits from all those enemy combatants who were released without charges could actually put a dent in Dick Cheney's multimillion Halliburton payout. And since trials for war crimes don't happen in our country so much, I could suggest a place in the Netherlands.

More importantly, we as a nation need the reinforcement that the tactic of coercing information does not work.

After meetings at the White House detailing these prisoner interrogations with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleza Rice, and George Tenet, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft lamented, "History will not judge this kindly."

This moment is history.