When the sickening images from Abu Ghraib first graced our television sets in 2004, we were assured by everyone and their twin sister that George W. Bush was as shocked and surprised as anyone. We were told he had not seen any documentation of the torture and/or fraternity hazing going on there, and that he was going to root out the “few bad apples” that had been involved.
Of course, the Bush administration valiantly rooted out those few bad apples, ignoring the poisoned tree they were growing from. I’m sure that it will surprise nobody that the poison that tree was drinking in was the Bush administration’s own special brand of evil (another fine product from Halliburton!), and that it was being poured liberally with the full knowledge of Donald Rumsfeld and the president himself.
And when you’re the guilty party, you’re not going to expend much effort finding the guilty party. Just as OJ Simpson hasn’t broken a sweat in his search for the real killers, the Bush administration actively impeded the investigation of Gen. Antonio Taguba, who was told flatly not to investigate any higher up the chain of command than Abu Ghraib itself. Of course, that’s sort of contrary to the idea of weeding out actual bad apples, as Sy Hersh noted on CNN:
Here’s Hersh talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday: “The question you have to ask about the president is this: No matter when he learned — and certainly he learned before it became public — and no matter how detailed it was, is there any evidence that the president of the United States said to Rumsfeld, ‘What’s going on there, Don? Let’s get an investigation going.’
“Did he do anything? Did he ask for a — did he want to have the generals come in and talk to him about it? Did he want to change the rules? Did he want to improve the conditions?
“BLITZER: And what’s the answer?
“HERSH: Nada. He did nothing. . . .
But of course he did nothing. For most of us, Abu Ghraib was a terrible thing, the moment at which we realized that we as a nation had surrendered the high moral ground we’d managed to hold onto through an existential war against Germany, and through the long twilight of the Cold War. We didn’t have an unblemished record, to be sure, but we viewed those failures as failures — America aspired to be better, and most of us believed that we were better.
Abu Ghraib told us that we weren’t better. It told us, indeed, that we were worse. That our moral peers were no longer the UK and Japan, but instead Kazakhstan and Iran. We soon learned all the lingo — extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, enhanced interrogation techniques — but we knew when we saw those photographs what we as a nation had become.
We had become agents of torture.
A different man would have stood up at that moment and risked his presidency to save his nation’s soul. A different man would have condemned torture in the strongest terms, and worked to root it out, whatever may come. A different man, an actual leader, would have found a way to reclaim the sympathy and support our nation had received after 9/11, instead of squandering it on sadism.
But of course, that man would not be George W. Bush, because this was his plan. Whether it was he himself who came up with it, or whether he just signed off on something Cheney or Rummy pushed across his desk, George W. Bush embraced torture. He embraced it even after we saw what that torture meant. He embraces it to this very day. Indeed, most of the men competing to succeed him as the GOP nominee are downright giddy at the possibility of creating their own Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamos.
And for the rest of us, we can only hope that 2008 brings sanity back to our nation, and an end to this nightmare — for ourselves, yes, but mostly for those we are torturing at this very minute, somewhere out there in the dark, whose photos we will never see.