I can't imagine anyone will ever be nostalgic for the Bushies. Their exit from the corridors of power and the entrance of the talented, infinitely more moral Obama team has been the most dramatic power-change on this continent since King George was shown the door in 1776. But it’s not too late to be outraged by the damage they have caused to this nation of laws and its diminished status in the civilized world.
The formerly-secret legal memos that purport to provide legal cover for CIA interrogators who were torturing prisoners at Guantanamo provide an appalling look into the minds of the damaged men (and, as it turns out, at least one woman) who overreacted to the events of 9/11 by rending the very fabric of American morality. Reading all 100+ pages of these patheticly result-oriented memos can produce nightmares about what was done in our name. If you manage to work your way all the way through the documents, you will need nothing so much as a shower. Your government was filthy-dirty with the terrorized minds, if not the actual blood, of its prisoners.
The right-wing talking pointers have tried to change the facts and the subject from the naked proof of outrageous criminal behavior approved by Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and so on to the release of the memos in first place and the darkly-laughable assertion that torture “worked”. All the Obama administration has done is release “legal” memos from pliant political appointees – one of whom, scandalously, now sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals – who parse the word “severe” within an inch of its obvious meaning in order to justify torturous acts. The specific horrific acts of torture used were not news, having been in the public domain through some (but not enough) reporting earlier. But the details of the brutal interrogations – largely conducted, by the way, not by CIA staff, but by profit-centered, soul-selling contractors – still jump out from the pages that seek to justify them, a permanent stain on our national character.
What is most offensive to me, as a lawyer, is the twisted legal logic produced by these partisan hacks, who, in giving Cheney what he demanded, made a mockery of their obligation to their client, who was ultimately not the power-mad greedheads in the White House, but the American people. “In order for pain or suffering to rise to the level of torture, the statute requires that it be severe,” writes now-judge-for-life Jay Bybee way back in 2002. “[T]his reaches only extreme acts...courts tend to take a totality-of-the-circumstances approach and consider an entire course of conduct to determine whether torture has occurred.” Not surprisingly, the Federalist Society lackey finds torture not to be torture, the level of pain and suffering being not “severe” enough; the interrogators not having the requisite intent to impose said pain and suffering; and blah de blah whoosh whoosh. He never does apply the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis that would put the lie to the rest of his Cheney-serving “analysis”.
This is the kind of black-means-white legal logic that gives lawyers a bad name. The torture tactics used by interrogators at Gitmo and elsewhere were reportedly developed by the Chinese to be used against Koreans in the 1950s. They were meant to supercede the more messy leave-a-mark kind of torture used in the uncreative past (although waterboarding is a torture-tactic classic, dating back, at least, to the Inquisition). Bybee seems to say that, since thumb-screws and The Rack were not employed in our new and improved Torture 3.0, then it’s just peachy with him. As lawyers, we are trained to distinguish cases and circumstances to reached our clients’ preferred conclusions. But this is ridiculous.
We strung people up in a standing position for as long a 180 hours (that's more than 7 days) to employ sleep deprivation. We doused naked prisoners with cold water for hours. We banged them repeatedly up against a false wall. We terrorized them by pouring water up their nose -- sometimes six times a day -- to make them think they were drowning.
We did it. You did it. I did it. It was done in our name. We will be endangered and stained with the sins of the Bush Administration for the rest of history. If world opinion some day lets us off the hook for the one radical regime we allowed for eight years, we should consider ourselves lucky. In the meantime, all we can do is make amends. And, for a change, tell the truth.