Ringside Seat: Where's the War on Torture?

Just after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Dick Cheney said with a gleam in his eye that in order to be safe, America would "have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful." As a bipartisan panel organized by the Constitution Project has concluded in a 600-page report released today, we did indeed go to the dark side, to our lasting shame.

The bombing in Boston is a reminder that the "War on Terror" is a war without end, since terrorism is always possible. And this report is a reminder that even in a democracy as mature as ours, the government is capable of awful things.

The Constitution Project's panel on treatment of detainees was led by former Democratic Congressman James Jones and former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson, and included former generals, a former ambassador, a former FBI director, and a number of law professors. Its conclusions were unequivocal: "Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture."

But no, the torture apologists say. We were merely using "enhanced interrogation techniques." By now, that phrase should join "ethnic cleansing" as a euphemism first meant to obscure a horror, but that eventually came to evoke it. When you take a man and waterboard him over and over until he gives you the answers you're looking for, just as they did during the Spanish Inquisition, what else besides torturing him are you doing? When you bind a man in a "stress position" and leave him there until his muscles scream in agony so he'll tell you what you want to hear, just as the North Vietnamese did to American prisoners of war, what else besides torturing him are you doing? The only thing "enhanced" was the depth of our government's moral failure, and the fact that we can even argue about what to call it is absurd.

There will never be any legal accountability—not for the policy-makers who ordered the torture, nor the administration lawyers who justified it, nor for those who carried it out. When he took office, President Obama formally ended the torture program, but he made it clear there would be no prosecutions, because who wants to dwell on the past? So all we can do is remind ourselves, as often as possible, that monstrous acts can be done in our name unless we summon the strength to stop them. 


So They Say

"We always played on Fridays. We draw together. We draw sports pictures.”

Kaytlyn Lynch, a friend of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who died in yesterday's attack in Boston

Daily Meme: Immigration Reform, Unpacked

  • Gun control, the budget, and immigration have been vying for first place on Congress's docket for the past few weeks, and today marks immigration's day in the spotlight (although that light is unsurprisingly dimmed by the tragedy in Boston).
  • In case the Gang of Eight's legislation summary is tl;dr for you, here are the most important things you need to know.
  • As Politico reports, "The massive piece of legislation will undergo its first public vetting on Friday at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee."
  • If passed, the legislative package would be the biggest immigration reform ever enacted, with an impact reaching three times the number of people affected by the Reagan-era reforms.
  • As Benjy Sarlin points out, "much to the relief of immigration advocates, there is a relatively clear and reliable process for today’s 11 million undocumented residents to eventually become citizens."
  • The Journal has a good breakdown of what the bill means to different immigrants, current and future.
  • Some conservatives, like Tea Party representative Steve King, are using the Boston tragedy as justificiation for their opposition?
  • But those who want to water down the legislation should watch out. As The Economist notes, "Shepherding an immigration bill through Congress may be a daunting task, but snuffing one out is beginning to look more daunting still."
  • And it's important to realize that as important as expansive immigration policy is, the Gang of Eight's bill is far from the chief worry of many immigrants: "People don't talk about that. People talk about work. About their families. About how they're worried they're not making enough money to send home."

What We're Writing

  • Clare Malone tries to put together her own pieces in the wake of the bombings in Boston.
  • E.J. Graff lives near Boston; for her, the attacks seemed shockingly national and frighteningly personal at the same time.

What We're Reading

  • A reporter from National Journal walked into a private fundraiser for Elizabeth Busch-Colbert, no questions asked. Here's her take on the event.
  • The New Yorker made an infographic that shows how the subway map proves a perfect way to showcase Manhattan's monstrous income inequality.
  • The president has made the decision, political or apolitical, bold or cowardly, for better or worse, to call the Boston attacks "terrorism."
  • Slate contends that conspiracy theorists won't be able to touch the up-to-the-minute crowdsourced coverage of the attacks ...
  • ... while Mother Jones puts that hope to sleep by showing six rumors already running rampant.
  • Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey don't quite have the votes for their background-check legislation; now they've started further diluting an already watery set of regulations in an attempt to capture wavering senators.
  • Salon writes that the events in Boston may be distracting enough to let the gun bill die an ignominious death, and that the ATF, which investigates some domestic terror, has been directorless and hamstrung because of Republican obstructionism.
  • On a lighter note, amid endless rape-joke sexist-comic controversies, Louis CK leads the way on funny feminism.

Poll of the Day

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Americans strongly favor a new law on background checks (86 percent) and a path for undocumented migrants to achieve legal status (63 percent). On the other hand, a minority of Americans approves of the way President Obama is handling the same two issues; 45 percent approve of his handling of gun control, and only 44 percent approve on immigration.

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