Sometimes, you don’t need to read any further than the headlines. “The Torture Report Reminds Us What America Was,” reads the title of an op-ed piece in the New York Times today, thereby announcing an inability to make the connection between the supersaturated spiritual depression in America today, and the evil the Bush-Cheney Administration manifested and the Obama Administration has continued, minus torture.
The things that were done in the name of the American people must be named. A partial list includes: “Interrogations that lasted for days on end. Detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. A prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death. Forced rectal feeding and hydration, without physical necessity.”
What kind of nation produces people who do such things? Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, echoing Barack Obama, claims that the torture was “not consistent with who we are as a nation.” But that’s a lie. It’s not just “where we were after 9.11” as apologists repeat ad nauseam; it’s what we had already become before, and what we still are today.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden whines, “We thought we were doing the nation’s will.” The very fact that the miscreants that authorized and conducted the torture program are crawling out from under their rocks to defend them proves that there has been no accountability.
One of main media proponents of the “war of choice” in Iraq nauseatingly asks: “Why do people line up to come to this country?” Bending reality to the breaking point, he jingoistically quotes Senator John McCain: “Because we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”
A cable news twit said we needed the torture report “so we don’t go back to this very dark period.” We never left it however. Obama rewarded and promoted the very people that designed and carried out the torture programs at “black sites” around the world. That’s unconscionable, as a Colorado Senator Mark Udall said on the floor of the Senate today. Since there has been no accountability, is Obama simply a placeholder for an even more fascistic government that waits in the wings?
Another headline reads: “Obama Avoids Taking Sides (On Effectiveness of CIA Techniques).” That speaks volumes about the dangerous mediocrity of the president and the duplicitous mendacity of the press, and vice versa.
Whether the brutal “interrogation techniques” of a decade ago produced, in CIA-speak, actionable intelligence, is beside the point. “We tortured some folks,” as President Obama half-heartedly said. The fact is that America violated the international laws, rules and norms that Obama is so fond of citing in other contexts, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Therefore the “fundamental question raised by the report” is not, as the New York Times intones, whether the torture under Bush-Cheney produced “meaningful intelligence to stop terrorist attacks.” The fundamental question is whether the President is correct when he says, “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.”
As one of America’s great writers, William Faulkner, said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But whitewashing and having things both ways is what America has done best. And amnesia can be a willful exercise in forgetting. In America, it is aided and abetted by a media culture designed to keep slapping a fresh coat of pretty paint over the carcass of the body politic.
I was 10 years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of thermonuclear war, and it is burned into my memory. The young men and women in college today were entering adolescence when the events that ended the American century—the invasion of Iraq and Abu Ghraib torture revelations—were in the daily news. Yet most of them don’t recall and don’t want to know anything about those things. You have to be taught to forget.
This isn’t a jeremiad against America; I’ve risked more than my life—my very soul—for this country. But the image of a good, much less great country has to shatter in the American people themselves. Not just for America to recover its soul, but for the human spirit not be snuffed out by its “global war on terror.”
It is comforting or consoling to think, “how far we are from Verdun and Hiroshima.” But why, if we are so far from Verdun and Hiroshima, have so many people given up on humanity in the West? Is it not because the growth and aim of self-made darkness is not outward atrocity but the inward destruction of the spirit of individuals and peoples?
I didn’t used to believe in hell. I still don’t in the conventional sense, as a place of eternal punishment. But I do feel that some kind of ledger is kept on our lives. If we don’t care, or deny, or refuse to come to terms with our harmful actions, when we die we go to the end of the line, and wait, with full awareness of our lives, until the fate of humanity is decided by the living, by people who still give a damn.
Because it betrayed everything it stood for, and spread terrorism into a worldwide pandemic, America has gone to the end of the line of nations. It will remain there, until enough people regain their souls to give rebirth to the soul of the nation.
A saying attributed to Jesus (but not found in the Bible), pertains both to a person and a people: “Bring forth what is within you, and what you bring forth will save you; do not bring forth what is within you and what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”