Thursday, April 18, 2013

Forgiving torture

By Frank Moraes 

I am often reminded that I'm not a very nice person. Most recently, this came to mind because Jonathan Bernstein wrote at PostPartisan, "How Do We Keep from Torturing Again?" This is coming off the Constitution Project report stating unequivocally that after 9/11, the United States, as a matter of government policy, tortured people in our custody. As I reported in an update to that story, Andrew Sullivan has called for a truth commission or something similar to address this unacceptable behavior.

Bernstein said much the same thing, but with a political scientist's eye: the only way we can prevent future episodes of government torture is to admit what we did. We can't be a nation where one party is against torture and the other is for it. In fact, that is exactly what we now have for reasons that should be clear to readers of this site. But this gets to the point about my not being a nice person. Bernstein wrote:

I've argued -- against many torture opponents -- that a Truth Commission, combined with blanket pardons and generous expressions of understanding for those who were responsible, as odious as what they did was, is actually the best way to proceed.

I think he is right, and yet I have trouble offering those generous expressions of understanding. But it isn't because I'm not forgiving -- I am very forgiving. It is just that I remain resentful as long as the wrongdoer does not admit his error. I think most people are like this.

So as long as Bush Jr. continues to act like everything he did in office was just great or at least done with the best intentions, I cannot offer understanding. As long as Cheney goes around the country talking about how right he was to lead our country into the "dark side," I cannot offer understanding. As long as torturers and their apologists continue to be represented at the highest levels of government and media, I cannot offer understanding.

That's my failing. But maybe better men than I can get a truth commission going and convince Bush to admit to his torture policies and accept that they were wrong. If he does, my opinion of him will improve and I will offer him generous expressions of understanding -- I know I will, because I know how I am. But until then, I will think of him as just another unpunished criminal who should be spending the rest of his life in a cage, not attending his own art shows.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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