If Bob Woodward’s report is to be believed, a senior Bush Pentagon official, Susan J. Crawford, has finally spoken the words out loud: the United States has engaged in torture. This from The New York Times:
The senior Pentagon official in the Bush administration’s system for prosecuting detainees said in a published interview that she had concluded that interrogators had tortured a Guantánamo detainee who has sometimes been described as “the 20th hijacker” in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The public record of the Guantánamo interrogation of the detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, has long included what officials labeled abusive techniques, including exposure to extreme temperatures and isolation, but the Pentagon has resisted acknowledging that his treatment rose to the level of torture.
But the official, Susan J. Crawford, told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post that she had concluded that his treatment amounted to torture when she reviewed military charges against him last year. In May she decided that the case could not be referred for trial but provided no explanation at the time.
In confirming torture has occurred, Crawford’s statement comes on top of recent admissions by both Dick Cheney and George W. Bush of their own complicity in the crime. And, yes, torture is a crime, not a policy dispute. We recently sentenced a guy from another country to 97 years in jail for doing just that.
So it is that the criminality of his predecessor has been dumped squarely onto Barack Obama’s unwilling lap.
It’s hard to blame Obama for wanting to avoid this issue. The man has a few other things on his plate at the moment, after all, what with trying to stave off another Great Depression, end two wars and deal generally with the wreckage left behind by the worst president in American history. And, of course, there’s also that whole post-partisan thing.
Let’s face it: it’s hard to be post-partisan when you’re prosecuting the other party’s leaders.
Clearly, given his druthers, Obama wouldn’t touch this with a ten googolplex foot pole. He has little to gain politically by doing so, and potentially much to lose.
But unfortunately, that’s one of the disadvantages to being president — one of the negatives that offset somewhat the joy of getting to pick really cool rugs: sometimes history forces you into places you’d rather not go.
As we so often preach to the rest of the world, the United States of America is a democracy. And in a democracy, each of us — whether we like it or not — is a stakeholder in the process of governance. This means, of course, that as stakeholders, we all bear some responsibility for the actions of those who lead us. If we choose to look the other way when the United States government tortures people, we as its citizens become torturers ourselves. It goes with the territory.
It may sound hokey, but we have, in truth, reached a time of national judgment — one of those moments when we declare to the world whether words like freedom, human rights and the rule of law represent ideals we actually live by, or merely lovely political poetry, nice to recite, but easily discarded when inconvenient.
The crimes committed in our name have now been stripped bare. Any plausible deniability we as a people might once have pretended to exist, has been blown to bits by the recent statements of people like Crawford, Cheney and Bush. We either tolerate torture as a nation or we don’t. It’s that simple.
There’s no middle ground, no artful compromise. Yes or no.
It’s time to decide.