Some small part of me still wants to believe that Don Rumsfeld is not a monster; that Dick Cheney is not a foul, unrepentant war criminal at large; that Joe Lieberman actually has some moral reservations about the torture his friends devised and perpetrated against thousands of victims, especially given the fact that the torture program – even its name – is indistinguishable in key respects from the “verschaerfte Vernehmung” techniques used by the Gestapo. Part of me wants still to believe that these decisions were anguished ones, made in terrible times, surrounded by profound ignorance and fear and imposed reluctantly for fear of the consequences of inaction, with moral trepidation.
The first reason I cannot believe this is that none of the individuals involved in the torture program has shown the slightest remorse or even moral qualms about their decision to violate one of the most basic international moral norms against mistreatment of prisoners, in an international system called the Geneva Conventions that the US was integral to setting up. They have not even had the grace to remain silent. They appear in public, these braggers of their own barbarism. They get feted by a former attorney-general! They get bankrolled by men like Laurence Grafstein or Michael Hertog or Michael Steinhardt, men who I naively thought opposed this kind of thing that was authorized and enforced under Bush and Cheney:
using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings—in one case 183 times—even after they have cooperated with interrogators.
Here is Ben Smith’s invaluable account of the torture jokes:
“There were some waterboarding jokes that were really tasteless,” the guest said. “I can see the case for enhanced interrogation techniques after Sept. 11 but I can’t really endorse sitting there drinking wine and fancy dinner at the Plaza laughing uproariously about it.”
Cheney himself told one waterboarding joke, the attendees said, which he attributed to Jay Leno. It centered on a one-shot antelope hunting contest in Wyoming in which the loser had to dance with an Indian squaw. Cheney’s shot got caught in the barrel, producing a dispute over whether it counted as a hit or a miss — and Leno, according to Cheney, joked that Cheney wanted to go catch the animal with his bare hands and waterboard it.
Separately, Rumsfeld joked about Cheney waterboarding fish.
Waterboarding is a war crime, with no statute of limitations. It was, for Dick Cheney, a “no-brainer”. 183 separate incidents of near-suffocation on a single victim were, for Cheney, a “splash of water”. I wonder how many subscribers to Commentary – the magazine grotesquely sponsoring this event – endorsed those torture techniques when they were used against collaborators and Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, or when they were used by Pol Pot in Cambodia’s genocide. For the record, here are the names of those who sponsored this event:
Perhaps they will disown the event and publicly repudiate it. I’ll gladly publish any statement from any of them to that effect. Maybe they didn’t realize in advance that this would be a laugh-a-thon about war crimes. Maybe some left the room, as Yiddish songs were played to please a man who used Gestapo tactics. But this is so depraved, so morally bankrupt, so disgusting an event … there will be no consequences for any involved, will there?
I’m just glad to know their names. For the record. For history. Remember their names.