Never Again

The reason we must keep the torture issue alive is not to exact a
small measure of comeuppance from the Bush administration zealots who bent the
law till it screamed, but to alter the course of history.

Thus the filing of disciplinary complaints a few days ago against
12 Bush administration lawyers, who crafted the quasi-legal justifications that
made waterboarding a household word, has significance well beyond the case for
their disbarment. This action, taken by a coalition of citizen organizations
-- from the ACLU and Vets for Peace to the Libertarian Party of West Virginia,
200 groups in total, claiming a membership of more than a million people
-- represents, as I see it, American citizens' furthest reach of
patriotic sanity.

The Bush sins are unoriginal. We've always done
torture. We've always been at war with a dehumanized (and usually
dark-skinned) other, whom we have simultaneously attempted to kill and, in our
armed righteousness, "save."

The cocky Bush boys were different only in their open pursuit of
this agenda. They had no need for nuanced, bipartisan hypocrisy and flaunted
the shadow ops of empire as perfectly legitimate tools of government. With the
declaration of an endless war on terror and much of the media on their side,
they almost succeeded in legitimizing the premise that the commander-in-chief
and his designated agents are beyond all law, and ushering in a strange new
American oligarchy.

This effort collapsed of its own hubris, as we all know, and now
Hope and Change, the Bobbsey Twins of the Democratic Party, skip merrily
through the wreckage, disavowing the obvious cruelties of the last eight years
and urging us to "move forward" -- while the extra-legal
pursuit of America's strategic interests, as defined by the defense
establishment, retreats quietly to the background.

Uh, excuse us, Mr. President. The mandate you've been given
is a little bigger than that, to the regret (I fear) of the Washington
establishment. We want to purge the Bush era from the national soul. We want
the words "never again" to hum with meaning. We want a new
relationship with the world and we want our "strategic interests"
to line up with our ideals, not merely because it's right but because
it's the only way we'll ever be secure. And for this to happen, we
have to look squarely at the truth of who we are and who we have always been.

The failure of the Bush administration to remake America --
and the fact that the crimes of its attempt to do so are indelibly part of the
public record -- present us with the best opportunity we've ever had
to confront our national flaws, at least those that flow from the bete noir
known as American exceptionalism, and begin making substantive changes. All
that's lacking right now is the will. Believe me, it won't come
from the top.

"There's a vise grip on D.C.," said Kevin
Zeese, executive director of Voters for Peace and a leader in the effort to
make Bush officials accountable for trying to circumvent both the U.S.
Constitution and international law in order to legitimize torture. The Justice
Department has sat on it for five years; Congress is paralyzed by its own
complicity; and President Obama lacks the leverage to buck the defense
establishment even if he has the inclination (and it's not clear he

We won't take the country back all at once, but we have to
start somewhere. And it begins with accountability. This is why I applaud the
coalition's filing of complaints with state bar licensing boards against
these dirty dozen Bush administration attorneys: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen
Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher,
William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan and David
Addington. In addition, the coalition is calling for impeachment proceedings
against Bybee, now a sitting federal judge.

I don't know how much of the truth will ever come out, in a
way that cannot be ignored (think Germany, think South Africa), but my hope is
that we begin a process that gets at all of it, that pries open every secret
grave: the CIA torture research of the 1950s; the Phoenix Program of the
Vietnam era; the overthrow of the governments of Iran, Guatemala and Chile; the
torture training at the School of the Americas; the Reagan era complicity with
the thug regimes of Central America; and so much more.

These are all products of American exceptionalism, the belief
that our brutality is always benign. Where once we killed to spread the word of
God, we now kill and torture in the name of democracy -- and in the Bush
era, we did both, a fact underscored by the recent revelation that Donald
Rumsfeld's special intelligence memos to Bush had inspirational photos
(an American tank at sunset, e.g.) and Bible verses on the cover:
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil
comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . ."

Perhaps the antidote to this self-righteous lunacy is to be found
at the coalition Web site: It will happen again if we
don't stand up to it now.

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