E.D. Kain ponders torture:
There are lines a free society simply cannot cross, even in order to protect its security, and if it does choose to cross them well then it ought to do so with the full force of the law at its back, in public. If it has to be done under the cold cloak of secrecy, then perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it at all.
Why didn’t Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration go the route that Kain prefers? Why didn’t they invite a public debate by openly proposing the legalization of torture? (Before they had actually begun to torture.)
The answer is found in the aphorism, “Sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness than to get permission.”
Americans would never have approved the legalization of torture in the cold light of day. Not even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But once torture was a fait accompli — after the information had come out in a slow trickle over five or six years — that’s different.
It’s surprising what one’s conscience can adjust to.
Establishment media figures think we should just bury the whole sorry episode. Peggy Noonan, for example: “Some things in life need to be mysterious. […] Sometimes you need to just keep walking.”
Likewise, leading politicians. John McCain is a staunch opponent of torture, but here he is echoing Noonan: “We’ve got to move on.”
Sweep it under the rug. What’s done is done; what’s past is past. It’s water under the bridge. Even President Obama is fond of saying that America should look forward, not back.
And so Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay ByBee and other torture architects stand to be forgiven for a gross violation of America’s historic values:
As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. […] I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.
— Newt Gingrich in 1997, back when Republicans still opposed torture
Cheney, Bybee, Yoo — and Bush himself — may yet get forgiveness. But they never could have gotten permission: that’s why they acted “under the cold cloak of secrecy.”