Belmont Club

Give me chastity and continence, but not yet

The Boston Globe editorial of today is about “Pelosi’s silence on torture”. The editorial says:

It now seems clear that top Democratic leaders like Pelosi knew about the policy, and chose not to challenge it. … The country should have access to all explanatory memos and other backup information about the interrogation policy. That way Americans will know exactly what Bush officials were thinking and what lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – were told. The country needs to hear the truth.

Here are a few questions that might be asked. Why did “top Democratic leaders like Pelosi” not choose to challenge the decision? What other “top Democratic leaders” knew? Was it an open secret in Washington that certain things had to be done but on the quiet? Is there any relationship between the Barack Obama’s current reversion to the policies of his predecessor and the reason “top Democratic leaders like Pelosi” chose not to challenge them? The country needs to hear the truth not only about who lied, but why they lied. Because it bears on why they may still be lying. Were the campaign promises on which Barack Obama ran designed to truly make the country safer, or was it just another piece of spin to be conveniently abandoned when the time came?

Does Washington want to know the truth or would it be happier if it all just went away? Nancy Pelosi, for one, would be glad to just move on. Jake Tapper reports: “The combative Nancy Pelosi was gone this week, replaced with someone on-message who wants to move forward from talking about Bush-era torture techniques.”

She said: “I have made the statement I’m going to make about this. I don’t have anything more to say about it… what we are doing is staying on our course and not being distracted from it and this is a distraction… moving forward in a bipartisan way for jobs, health care, energy for our country.”

“On the subject you asked, I’ve made by statement,” Pelosi again said. “I don’t have anything more to say.”

Perhaps some part of the electorate actually wants to be lied to; to feel safe yet be spared the knowledge of what tradeoffs might have been necessary to achieve it. It wouldn’t be the first time. Ceremony has always been used to hide hard choices from the public eye, or at least to veil, with incense, the awesome mysteries which lay behind. The marching bands, dignified bearing and usages of military service are all designed in part to conceal, or to momentarily obscure, that the profession is all about killing the nation’s enemies. The awesome spectacle of justice, the black robes, the sonorous language, conspire to make us forget that it deals with the business of taking away the freedom or ending the life of a criminal. Just as in the hospital ward a curtain is drawn across the sickbed, on both sides of the aisle politicians must have feared that there were some things the public did not want to see. In 1989, Alan Sorkin wrote a play,  ironically enough, about a group of Marines being tried for an offense in Guantanamo Bay called A Few Good Men. In it, the antagonist, Colonel Jessep, put the prosecutor on trial, for the crime he alleged, of intruding on their self-esteem.

Kaffee: I want the truth!

Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.

In the movie, Jessep is convicted and sentenced. It is interesting to consider, as a thought experiment, if Kaffee’s own life depended on Jessep, whether he would act differently. He might not and actually choose to prosecute Jessep regardless of the consequences to himself. But that would be a different movie. The The Globe is right. The public needs to know the truth, however much it may hurt. But it’s just possible that some of them may not want to.


“And none so blind as they who will not see”

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