Perhaps you can do this in steps. Read Robinson's column. Digest what offers of detail. Let me offer only one paragraph of what he recounts:
Ten of the detainees said they were forced to stand in an excruciatingly painful position for days at a time, with their hands chained to a bar above their heads. If you don't believe that's torture, try it -- and see if you last five minutes. One detainee, Walid Bin Attash, had an artificial leg, which he said his CIA jailers sometimes removed to make the "stress standing position" more agonizing.
Perhaps that is why he goes beyond he also writes
I realize that many Americans, given the scope of the economic crisis and the ambitions of the new administration, would rather look forward than revisit the past. The business of torture, however, is too unspeakable to be left unresolved.
too unspeakable to be left unresolved
And yet our Congress remains unwilling even to proceed with the Truth Commission proposed by Pat Leahy. New CIA head Leon Panetta does not think that CIA personnel who had legal directives from the White House or Justice Department should be subject to penalties. Some complain it would be unfair? Why the concern for fairness for torturers and none for the tortured? Why the willingness to cover up the complicity of those who have been responsible for atrocities, up and down the chain of command? Who else knew and did nothing? Does awareness extend to current leadership in Congress, as many of us suspect? Were laws of secrecy used to silence them? Will we ever fully know who bears responsibility for so besmirching the good name of the American people, whose government this is supposed to be?
Robinson makes clear his disgust. He also believes there must be accountability. His penultimate paragraph reads:
I have believed all along that we urgently need to conduct a thorough investigation into the Bush administration's moral and legal transgressions. Now I am convinced that some kind of "truth commission" process isn't enough. Torture -- even the torture of evil men -- is a crime. It deserves not just to be known, but to be punished.
Let me turn to the words of Mark Danner, to make clear the importance of this issue. I will quote in their entirety three paragraphs before I return to my own words, and conclude with those of Robinson. Danner writes
When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can "let the past be past"—whether or not we can "get beyond it and look forward." Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of "procedures" applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water," among others—that were applied to those fourteen "high-value detainees" and likely many more at the "black site" prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.
Torture, as the former vice-president's words suggest, is a critical issue in the present of our politics—and not only because of ongoing investigations by Senate committees, or because of calls for an independent inquiry by congressional leaders, or for a "truth commission" by a leading Senate Democrat, or because of demands for a criminal investigation by the ACLU and other human rights organizations, and now undertaken in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Poland. For many in the United States, torture still stands as a marker of political commitment—of a willingness to "do anything to protect the American people," a manly readiness to know when to abstain from "coddling terrorists" and do what needs to be done. Torture's powerful symbolic role, like many ugly, shameful facts, is left unacknowledged and undiscussed. But that doesn't make it any less real. On the contrary.
Torture is at the heart of the deadly politics of national security. The former vice-president, as able and ruthless a politician as the country has yet produced, appears convinced of this. For if torture really was a necessary evil in what Mr. Cheney calls the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty business" of "keeping the country safe," then it follows that its abolition at the hands of the Obama administration will put the country once more at risk. It was Barack Obama, after all, who on his first full day as president issued a series of historic executive orders that closed the "black site" secret prisons and halted the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that had been practiced there, and that provided that the offshore prison at Guantánamo would be closed within a year.
So we have a choice. Either Cheney is right, in which case Obama is putting us at risk. Or else Cheney is wrong, in which case there must be accountability. Go back and reread in the first paragraph: When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen.
If we are unwilling to hold accountable those who torture and those who authorized it and those who knew and yet remained silent, then the Constitution is without meaning and we are a nation not of laws but of men, for then we have accepted the proposition proposed by Richard Nixon to David Frost, that if the president does it, it is not illegal. What a repugnant idea.
No where in the Constitution do I read that we have created a monarch above the law. The president is not sovereign. Even the doctrine of sovereign immunity seems flawed, because the government is not sovereign, We the People of the United States are, and thus the government is accountable to us.
Or if you prefer the words of the Declaration, after describing unalienable rights notes
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
If the government will not tell us, how then do we know if it is destructive of our rights? Is not one of our rights that of knowing completely what is done in our name? Where, pray tell, in the Constitution is the idea that the Government can keep from the people, from their elected representatives, knowledge of what is done in their name.
Danner concludes like this:
There is a sense in which our society is finally posing that "what should we do" question. That it is doing so only now, after the fact, is a tragedy for the country—and becomes even more damaging as the debate is carried on largely by means of politically driven assertions and leaks. For even as the practice of torture by Americans has withered and died, its potency as a political issue has grown. The issue could not be more important, for it cuts to the basic question of who we are as Americans, and whether our laws and ideals truly guide us in our actions or serve, instead, as a kind of national decoration to be discarded in times of danger. The only way to confront the political power of the issue, and prevent the reappearance of the practice itself, is to take a hard look at the true "empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years," and speak out, clearly and credibly, about what that story really tells.
He is right, but he does not go far enough. Yes, the issue cuts to the basic question of who we are as Americans, and whether our laws and ideals truly guide us in our actions or serve, instead, as a kind of national decoration to be discarded in times of danger.
But Danner writes in a journal often only read by intellectuals, a journal considered tilted to the left, and thus conveniently ignorable by the "elite" within the Beltway, the members of "the Village."
That is not true of Eugene Robinson. He may tilt to the left, but he is an editor of the major publication of the national capital, he regular appears at least on cable television and occasionally on network tv as well.
I believe in being honest with my students. I teach government as it is, not just as we imagine it should be. I want them politically involved, so perhaps they can help demand that the government live up to the ideals we want them to believe about it. It is not that those governing us are necessarily bad people - although the evidence is that too many in the Bush administration were willing to be bad actors. Yet without full accountability, how do we demand that our elected and appointed officials live up to the standards our Constitution espouses?
If we accept a wrong, if we remain silent in the presence of evil, we become complicit. If we excuse the wrongdoing of those close to us - friends, family, political allies - we bear the blame for those wrongs, we tolerate a cancer that can only grow worse.
Perhaps I am foolish to hope that words can make a difference. And yet - sometimes it is a clear statement that rouses others to action.
So consider the final words of the column by Eugene Robinson. Consider their implication, for all of us. Then decide if it is now time to accept the words for which we remember the late Peter Finch, in his Oscar-winning role of Howard Beale "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!
And now, I close as does Robinson, with his final words:
From George W. Bush on down, individuals decided to sanction, commit and tolerate the practice of torture. They took pains to paper this vile enterprise with rationalizations and justifications, but they knew it was wrong. So do we.