In the course of a somewhat frustrating NYTimes article on what he calls 'Torture Lite', Joseph Lelyveld writes this:
"It has been more than a year now since we (and, of course, the region in which we presume to be crusading for freedom) were shown a selection of snapshots from Abu Ghraib with their depraved staging of hooded figures, snarling dogs and stacked naked bodies. For all the genuine outrage in predictable places over what was soon being called a ''torture scandal'' -- in legal forums, editorial pages, letters columns -- the usual democratic cleansing cycle never really got going. However strong the outcry, it wasn't enough to yield political results in the form of a determined Congressional investigation, let alone an independent commission of inquiry; the Pentagon's own inquiries, which exonerated its civilian and political leadership, told us a good deal more than most Americans, so it would appear, felt they needed to know. Members of Congress say they receive a negligible number of letters and calls about the revelations that keep coming. ''You asked whether they want it clear or want it blurry,'' Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said to me about the reaction of her constituents to the torture allegations that alarm her. ''I think they want it blurry.'' "
"Wanting it clear" means wanting an honest, open debate about what we want interrogators to do in our name. In the course of that debate, those who favor torture would have a chance to make their case. Is it useful in interrogations? Do ticking time bomb scenarios actually occur, and if so, how often? How much actionable intelligence have our "stress positions" and our "Fear Up Harsh" and "Pride and Ego Down" tactics actually yielded? Those who oppose torture would have a chance to ask: do these benefits, if they exist, outweigh the dangers of adopting a policy that seems to invite abuse? Do they create more terrorists than they allow us to capture or thwart? Have they made enemies of people who might have supported us? And are these methods consistent with our values as a nation, and with our noblest aspirations? When both sides had made their case, we could then decide openly what we want to do, and decide it as a nation.
"Wanting it blurry" means wanting to avoid that debate. It means caring less about considering the extremely serious issues at stake and getting them right than about being able to duck the uncomfortable knowledge that debating those issues might force on us. It means caring less about our country, its ideals, and its honor than about our own peace of mind, even when we have reason to think that that peace of mind might be undeserved. It means being willing to let taxi drivers whom we know to be innocent be beaten to death, detainees be sodomized with chemical lightsticks and have lit cigarettes stuck in their ears, and fourteen year olds be "suspended from hooks in the ceiling for hours at a time" while being beaten, in order to preserve the illusion that our own hands are clean.
Wanting it clear is for adults. Wanting it blurry is for children, who hope that problems they don't attend to will go away. And it is unworthy of citizens of a great democracy.
Susan Collins thinks that her constituents "want it blurry". Apparently, other members of Congress agree. As citizens of a democracy, we cannot react to this insulting idea by bemoaning the apathy of some unspecified group of other people. We are the people Collins is talking about, and it is up to us to prove her, and those who agree with her, wrong. So let's do it.
First, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings into detention at Guantanamo today. I wrote Senators Arlen Specter (the Chair) and Patrick Leahy (the ranking democrat) to thank them, and to urge them to hold more extensive hearings, so that we can fully debate all the issues raised by Guantanamo and come to considered conclusions.
Second, I wrote to ask my Senators to support S 654, and my Representative to support HR 952. Since none of my elected representatives has signed on as a sponsor of these bills, I asked each of them to do that as well. (If you click the links for each bill, you can find the lists of sponsors.)
S 654 and HR 952 are two similar bills, the first in the Senate and the second in the House. They would ban extraordinary rendition: sending people to other countries where we know they might be tortured: countries like Uzbekistan, Syria, and Egypt. (I wrote about HR 952 a few months ago.) If you need background on extraordinary rendition, you could read, well, any of Katherine's many posts about it on this blog, or this New Yorker article. It's an odious practice, and should be stopped. But both of these bills will die without more popular support. It is up to us not to let that happen.
Third, in all these emails I also wrote that I thought it was very important that the Congress conduct hearings on the following questions:
- What kinds of interrogation procedures, and procedures to 'set the conditions' for interrogation, have been used in our detention facilities at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in undisclosed locations? (This question should cover the conduct not just of the military, but also of the intelligence services and military contractors.)
- What were the costs and benefits of each of those kinds of procedures? Which produced useful information? Which needlessly destroyed good will in Iraq or Afghanistan, or harmed our reputation as a nation committed to human rights and human dignity? Which, on reflection, do we think we should have used, and which do we think we should have placed off limits?
- Why did we use those procedures we now think we should not have used? If they were authorized, by who? If not, what led interrogators or guards to use them, and how can we prevent this in future?
- What standards should we adopt going forward, so that we can be as certain as possible that interrogation and detention will take place as we as a nation think right? And how can we ensure that we live up to these standards?
And I added that these hearings should be extensive, so that the important issues they raised could be fully debated.
What you write is, of course, up to you. But I'd urge you to write something, and to try to get others to do so as well. We all know why it matters. It's up to us to act on what we know.