I can only fathom that we are supposed to beg.
I think we are supposed to get down on our knees, even grovel for it, and beg that our nation act in accordance with its own laws, with international laws, and with basic decency. We among the more expendable classes are supposed to write passionate editorials; we are supposed to form grass roots movements; we are supposed to make the usual dozens of phone calls, and be ashamed, and debase ourselves -- and then, perhaps, if we are very lucky, and if beg enough and with the right arguments and place enough pressure in the right, most uncomfortable spots, then our own government will relent, and our laws will be followed, and investigations conducted, and if warranted, those responsible will be prosecuted. And we will finally as a nation, at long last, reject torture in practice as well as in words.
But they will not do it, unless they are bowed to it by the collective weight of their own citizens. That seems to be, still, the message: they will not acquiesce unless bludgeoned into doing it. It is ceded to us to decide if America will have the smallest shard of conscience, and once again the voices of basic decency will be cast as the unreasonable ones, the foolish ones, the troublemaking rabble pestering those that know better, and we shall have to rise above it yet another time.
That is the only conclusion I can come to. It seems transparently obvious to Washington, to the Obama administration and its allies, to the Republicans and the Democrats of Congress, to all the very important people working very serious jobs, that while we can with great fanfare and self-satisfaction no longer torture prisoners in our care -- a war crime, in any context not involving ourselves -- it is far more challenging a proposition to think that we would actually take steps to enforce the myriad laws and conventions against it.
And in that sense, torture by the United States of America is as good as legalized, because we have all but declared that it will never be that illegal, the kind of illegal that leads to investigations and punishment. It will merely remain a deplorable act -- a war crime, in any context not involving us doing the torture -- that we will never, ever use, except when we do, and without consequence. We will not condone it but, like in Serbia, or Guatemala, or Cambodia, or the thugs of any one of a hundred pissant groups and countries that used the practice to vicious effect, when to their advantage, we will ignore the laws, the treaties and conventions, and we will not prosecute our torturers. Or, God forbid, those that specifically ordered the practice. Or those that sought to legalize it, on pen and paper, with arguments comprehensible only to sociopaths or monsters.
It apparently needs to be stated, yet again, that this is not a case of seeking vengeance. When powerful people are caught in illegal acts, it is nearly always the case that they claim prosecuting them would be "vengeance": it never enters the minds of our leaders, whether they be in government or in business, that perhaps the law should be applied to them simply because it is the law. There always needs to be additional motive attributed; it goes nearly without saying that, without the additional motives of vengeance, or revenge, or punishment then naturally those in power are not held to the laws required of the rest of us. You know you have arrived, in America, when you can break a law at will and have the government itself argue against your prosecution on the grounds that doing so would be controversial or divisive.
Whether or not any of the parties involved are actually convicted, whether even a single one of them see a day of jail time is not the question. Whether we preclude that possibility, as policy of government, is the more damaging question. For in precluding even the possibility of justice, we immunize the act, and if we immunize the act then it is not, in any meaningful sense, actually illegal.
It is not about revenge: it is about demonstrating that even for the most powerful among us, even for our own government, there are laws, and they are not optional. It is about demonstrating that we are a country in which law has a substance that overrides the credentials of the person breaking it. It is the brightest shining example of what we as a nation are or are not: it is our moral measure.
Knowing that torture was condoned in our names is an abominable thing. This parlor game of moving forward, not backward, of letting bygones be bygones, admitting error, and just getting the hell on with our days is just as dismal, because this, finally, internalizes the message that we citizens, our government, and other nations will take from this sorry affair, which is that while we begrudgingly acquiesce to stopping, we will, even now, refuse to recognize the act itself as truly criminal.
There is absolutely no pride to be gained in no longer torturing, but blocking justice in those instances in which we have. It is no act of courage; it is no enlightened position. It is merely the easiest path, and the one followed in nearly every instance by nations proven to have committed foul acts. Sorry, but we're not about to do anything about it. We'll stop, but in exchange for stopping we expect the episode to be forgotten. What would count as a war crime for you other countries counts for us as an internal matter, and we consider it closed.
I do not feel like begging. After years of railing against the practice (to be largely ignored, because in those days the majority of voices presumed torture to have positive effects, and therefore be justified), after years of government denial that any such thing was happening (in spite of clear and demonstrable evidence that it did), the last thing in the world that I feel like doing is once again begging, at long last, and to the supposed reasonable people that replaced the last reasonable people, that we actually follow our own goddamn laws, or treat crimes by our powerful with the same grave manner as we do crimes by anyone else in the nation.
I am fucking sick of it, and I am fucking sick of hearing how we have entered a new age of enlightenment merely because we have stopped a transparently abominable practice, one that we condemn with vigor when undertaken by any other nation. I am fucking sick of myself, my compatriots and the rest of the public having to act as collective conscience for all those in power that, apparently, have long since evolved past even common sense, much less common shame.
I know by tomorrow or next week I will relent, and I will start the cause anew, and I will join all the others in penning yet another fervent message explaining why, at long last -- at long fucking last -- we cannot simultaneously condemn torture and yet declare a casual, dismissive amnesty for all those that ordered it, and planned it, and justified it, and executed it, under the usual theory of the powerful that crimes by the powerful simply cannot be prosecuted lest chaos or embarrassment ensue.
But for today, I can only say damn you all to hell. Damn you all for making us -- us, of all people, average citizens with no positions of power, with no power at all save whatever we can wring out of the thin air, and with nothing at stake but a sense of shared, basic, foundational morality -- yet again rail for our own country to exercise a shred of the morality, the justice, the national greatness that it professes for all to hear. I was once outraged; I was, after that, ashamed; now I am only incredulous. With every passing day my nation acts less like a guiding beacon, and more like a crook.