Gul Rahmân and Dick Cheney
Take a moment to let that sink in. An innocent man died under torture, torture inflicted by Americans, as part of a program officially sanctioned by the American government at the time.
The horror of the situation goes beyond that, however. Here is part of an interview with Dick Cheney, in which the case came up:
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing. What do we owe them?
DICK CHENEY: Well --
CHUCK TODD: I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.
DICK CHENEY: -- right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. Of the 600 and some people who were released out of Guantanamo, 30% roughly ended up back on the battlefield. Today we're very concerned about ISIS. Terrible new terrorist organization. It is headed by named Baghdadi. Baghdadi was in the custody of the U.S. military in Iraq in Camp Bucca. He was let go and now he's out leading the terror attack against the United States. I'm more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.
CHUCK TODD: 25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.
DICK CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are --
CHUCK TODD: Well, I'm asking you.
DICK CHENEY: -- you going to know?
CHUCK TODD: Is that too high? You're okay with that margin for error?
DICK CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.
And there you have it. Leave aside the consensus, among most who understand the issue, that torture almost never produces reliable or useful information. Cheney has "no problem" with using torture even though a quarter of the victims were innocent, even though at least one innocent person (and I certainly don't believe he was the only one) died under torture. This is a former Vice President of the United States, but the words coming out of his mouth sound better suited to Lenin or Himmler.
Cheney justifies the use of torture on the basis of the 9/11 attack, which was indeed a horrific atrocity. The problem is that almost every regime we have ever condemned for using torture could advance a comparable argument. North Vietnam, for example, lost a lot more than 3,000 innocent civilians to American bombing during the war in which it tortured John McCain. There are certain lines which a civilized state doesn't cross, even under that kind of provocation. Such standards are what distinguish us from a communist dictatorship or a fascist gangster-state.
Or used to.
McCain, the only Republican to really distinguish himself honorably in the wake of the torture report's release, understands this. The many members of his party who continue to defend the program and attack its detractors do not.
And this means that I owe some people an apology. In the past I've been very critical of bloggers who compared the Republican party to the Nazis. I believed that they were weakening a strong case against the Republicans by making an absurdly overblown comparison. Yes, there is much evil in the Republican party, but comparing them to the Nazis was going much too far, offensively so.
Those bloggers were right. I was wrong. Not that the Republicans are guilty of everything the Nazis were guilty of, of course, but if a politician of Cheney's stature can defend torture, even torture of the innocent, and if a broad range of political figures from the party can continue to support that position, then yes, they are straying onto the same ideological turf.
These people have no idea what they've done. This program, and the continued defense of it by a major part of our political establishment, have done damage to our country's moral authority and global standing that can probably never be repaired.
A lot of ordinary Americans don't yet understand it either. As commenter Tommykey observed in response to last weekend's link round-up:
Of course, my Facebook feed was filled with people posting pictures of the Twin Tower burning with captions like "Waterboarding is fine with me" or some variations of approval for torture juxtaposed with a picture of 9/11, as if that automatically justifies it.
And, of course, from Pakistan to Morocco there are probably millions of people reading the revelations of the torture report and thinking "Terrorist attacks on the United States are fine with me -- now."