Saturday, April 25, 2009
One nation has used nuclear weapons, incinerating thousands in the blink of an eye. And if it is Japan, Germany, and Russia who have the reputation for being the bad guys of the last century, going around and attacking other nations unprovoked and then brutally occupying them, one might want to maintain some perspective and remember who carpet bombed North Vietnam for much of the 1960s and 1970s, who invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965, who invaded Grenada in 1983, and who invaded Iraq in 2003--all more or less if not unprovoked, unthreatened in any real way. And one might want to remember who was behind a multitude of coups and proxy wars in Guatemala in 1954 and the 1980s, Nicaragua in the 1980s, El Salvador in the 1980s, Cuba in 1961, Congo in the 1960s, Iran in 1953, Afghanistan in the 1980s.
What I grew up hearing called "Chinese water torture" (thanks to the Korean war) turns out to have its roots in the Spanish Inquisition, practice at the hands of Japanese militarism, and perfection with hoods and boards at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, is now called "water boarding" with its subtle suggestion of leisure-time recreation. And in the nation that most excels in double plus good euphemistical new-speak water-boarding turns out to be only one of the many prescribed practices of "enhanced interrogation" spelled out in recipe books issued by our former president George Bush's ironically-named justice department.
President Obama has, to his vast credit, opened some of the books on these deplorable inhumanities, shedding a little light on the Bush/Cheney doctrine of bureaucratic inhumanity that lead to our modern day gestapo-esque reality of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Baghram, and CIA black site prisons.
So now we all know, crimes were committed. What will we do about that? Well, apparently not very much, including not even clearly saying it won't happen again. Here's the rub. In his eternal optimism--and I don't actually mean that to sound so harsh--Obama knows that just under half the country doesn't have much of a problem with these crimes. It must be said that half the country doesn't seem to have much of a problem with the rest of us being enslaved to insurance companies, credit card companies, banks, soul-lessly greedy corporations, corrupt politicians, or religious fundamentalists either.
So how does the agenda of change which half the country DID vote for a few long months ago proceed? How now when the mildewing morality of a nation which claims to be free and progressive is revealed to be rotten with stinking and exposed corruption and hypocrisy is Obama to proceed?
President Obama is at one of many crossroads. He, who now controls the predator drones that kill innocent and guilty alike without trial or appeal, who now must choose secrecy or openness, who now holds the keys to the torture cells still stocked with people of unjudged innocence, who now claims to steer the ship of state, can choose not to fight this battle. Having defeated that other half of the country in his election he now hopes to unite us and heal us.
But what if it is not possible to heal that contradiction between the nation that murders at will (and the half of the population that unquestionably supported the actions of Bush and his predecessors in tradition) and the nation that claims to stand for a higher vision?
I want universal healthcare. I want marriage equality. I want economic justice. I want green energy. I want all the promises that Obama has made. But if all of these things are going to be battles, then let the battle be joined now over torture, where the morality is clear. If Obama is going to need more allies in the fight for a new more humane future, let him win them by repudiating completely the past and dismantling its machinery of murder. That intolerant, militaristic, backward, corrupt less-than-half of America is not monolithic. Let them be called out.
The United States has done terrible terrible things. They didn't start with Bush and they didn't end with him leaving office. We will win nothing if at every step we allow the forces of reaction to call the tune, to threaten, merely by their presence, to derail the cause of justice.
The previous administration must be held accountable, and responsible, for its crimes. Whether its judges or bureaucrats or interrogators or George Bush himself, the guilty must be punished. President Obama is wrong to reject that path.