June 23, 2005

Watching People Defend the Indefensible

I can't really summon up the vitriol to say what needs to be said here.

via Fontana Labs, Rush Limbaugh's Club Gitmo t-shirts. via Henry Farrell, Chris Muir thinks that U.S. prisoner abuse is offering someone an orange-glazed chicken. Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore (a cartoon that's in my local daily paper) has been running a series parodying torture allegations by saying that the prisoners were shown naked pictures of Rumsfeld, and then that they asked for them.

What sort of condition does your soul have to be in to produce this nonsense?

The United States has been torturing prisoners in its overseas prisons. Many have died. One was beaten so badly that it looked like he was run over by a bus, and--not that it would be acceptable otherwise--U.S. investigators believe he was an innocent man with no connections to terrorism. There's a lot of evidence out there for the severity of the crimes against humanity that are being committed in our name, if you make any effort to find out about them. (And I suspect that for every case we know about, there are others we do not. It beggars belief that we know the worst of what's gone on, given that our government is doing its best to conceal what's happened--including the Republicans in Congress who ought to be exercising their duty of oversight.)

I simply don't have the words for those who've decided to mock and minimize what's going on. Is the idea that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs? Never mind the absence of omelette; hasn't that been discredited? Is it that anything the United States does is by definition good? (Ah, here it is--"the perfect is the enemy of the good." Scroll down.*) Is it that any criticism of the evil things we do will aid and comfort our enemies--so we must be left free to do every evil thing we want? Is it simply a refusal to accept the evidence of what is happening? Is it, for Christ's sake, that these people don't know that beating prisoners, chaining them on the floor in their feces and urine--not to mention locking up people without giving them recourse to prove their innocence--is WRONG?

I suppose this is what fellow-travelers sounded like, back in Stalin's day. In the face of an overwhelming amount of evidence for terrible moral crimes, deny, attack the motives of the people exposing it, subordinate it to the greater moral good.

And yes, what we are doing is not as bad as what Stalin did. But the apologists for torture I think really are on the level of fellow-travelers. They seem to have set themselves up to excuse any atrocity that their side commits. Their side hasn't committed atrocities that rank with the worst in history--but it's not because the apologists are stopping them. (It's because our great political system hasn't been destroyed.) Excusing crimes against humanity strikes me as like eating potato chips--once you start it's hard to stop yourself.

Recently Sen. Durbin said, quite correctly, that the stories coming out of U.S. prisons are not stories you'd expect to hear about an exemplar of democracy and freedom, but about history's worst regimes. On this topic, one SteveMG said something I heartily agree with:

Watching people defend the indefensible is always an interesting hobby but sometimes hobbies have more serious consequences.

Except his idea of indefensible conduct isn't the US torturing prisoners. It's criticizing that torture. As Matthew Yglesias says, "if it's better than Hitler, it's a-okay with them."

*Dsquared's response: "In related news, I've seen operations that I consider to be 'perfect' and operations that I consider to be 'good', and neither of them included people tied up in their own excrement." Well struck. I've closed that page and I'm not going back to it.

Posted by Matt Weiner at June 23, 2005 01:39 PM