T.S. Elliot summarized the issue, "When good does evil in its struggle against evil, it becomes indistinguishable from its enemy."
A current example is the sick morality that sees America's program of torture during the war that "they" had done it to us and would do so again. Therefore we were not evil. The Sept. 11 attack persuaded the leaders of the country that murder, kidnapping and torture were appropriate in the war on terror. June Mayer's carefully documented book The Dark Side demonstrates beyond doubt that the president, the vice president, the director of the CIA and their closest aides are war criminals. They violated international law, they violated American law, and they violated natural law.
Their excuse was that the president has the power to dispense from all laws in virtue of his role as commander in chief when the country is in grave danger. They have argued in their defense that the "enhanced interrogation" of prisoners has saved American lives. But they refuse to cite any cases or brutal, presidential-approved torture that saved anyone's lives.
The president, someone argues in The Dark Side, had the right, on the grounds of national security, to order the assassination of anyone who might seem to be a terrorist in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
Many Americans -- solid, patriotic Americans -- seem to enjoy the prospect of treating prisoners the way the Nazis did just to show how tough we can be when we have to be tough. In fact, it shows how stupid we are. All the research on the subject shows that torture does not in fact work and that the enemy understands that our "tough" interrogators will believe any wild story that prisoners will tell to protect themselves and deceive the dumb "cowboys."
As the next president tries to restore the reputation of America around the world, will he not have to authorize war crimes trials for torturers, especially the men and women who are responsible for snatching suspects off the streets of European cities by mistake? They tortured their victims, refused to release them, and then let them die by simply denying their existence. What difference does it make if you kill one more Arab? To paraphrase the inestimable Kit Carson: The only good Arab is a dead one.
There will certainly be blanket pardons for all the guilty cowboys before the president leaves office. A few minor figures will be left unpardoned -- like all such sacrificial lambs, they will be low-level operatives. What would happen, however, if, let us say, Spain or the Netherlands or Italy or Costa Rica should indict the vice president? Would a Democratic president turn him over to some such foreign tribunal? Especially if the president were a man who was trying to draw the country together? Under the principle of our country, our heroes, right or wrong, would we tell these foreigners that they had no jurisdiction to accuse a vice president who had been pardoned in advance? After all, the president's power in time of war is without limit of space or time. He had the right to pardon someone before he began his "enhanced interrogations."
That is a challenge to international law unacceptable to a country that tells the world that it is "The Light" of freedom. A new president or judicial prosecutor in another country could easily find a list of suspects in The Dark Side.
The CIA kept a collection of video disks of American torturers at work. They were ordered not to release those records. With no one's permission but the president's, they were all secretly destroyed for "national security reasons."
We learn from The Dark Side to understand that these words mean the government is once again preparing to violate one of the Ten Commandments.