These Are American Patriots?

                CIA chief John O. Brennan has chosen to salute the CIA agents who used torture to extract information as “patriots.” That’s one step too far, Mr. Brennan.  Diane Feinstein’s release of the summary of the intelligence investigation report and the subsequent reactions to it have fallen into the strange and extreme polarization that currently engulfs public discussion. How is it possible for partisan rage to extend even to the defense of torture?

            Fact:  Suicide bombers in control of four American planes attacked America on September 11, 2011.  No argument there.  In the understandable atmosphere of fear and anger that spread through our country, President George W. Bush oversaw the creation of The Patriot Act that initiated years of searching for peripheral players in the barbaric attack. The central frustration is that suicide bombers always die in their acts and finding the planners is murky business.

In response to the attack, CIA created Black Op sites around the world where they could bring suspected collaborators for covert interrogation.  CIA employees and the contractors they hired for more than $80,000,000 of taxpayer money, tortured the prisoners with rectal rehydration, rape, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and hanging naked in handcuffs from pipes.

The simplest way to describe the rage that has consumed the discussion is that Conservatives say anything at all was justified in the search for the guilty.  Liberals say that torture is an absolute violation of American values.  And even if you agree with the Conservatives, exactly who was guilty in the planning of 9/11 among the suspects swept up in the CIA net?  More than 25 of the tortured were pronounced innocent and released after appalling treatment that is against international law.  And yes, of course other countries break international law, but for a very long time America has been among the those who take pride in respecting it.

Conservatives see Liberals as weak.  Liberals see Conservatives as driven by the drive for power over others.  That’s the nut of the question.  Whether the topic is war (just bomb ‘em!), torture (“The end justifies the means” – Cheney), or women (no abortion, no contraceptives).  And that’s where I become unable to see both sides of the question any longer.

How, I keep asking myself, did Conservatives get this way?  And when I let my mind roam, I wonder if they were once the bullies on the school bus, the college boys who say women don’t mean no when they say no, the young businessmen who drive to the top and then rail against raising the minimum wage.  And then the men who – even in the face of daily gun murders – talk about our frontier heritage and the right to carry guns in public.  Is that what it comes down to?  John Wayne, armed and angry, striding across the prairie to kill bad guys?  Is it as simple as white male + success + sex = the right to wield power over others?  For them, does power really mean “We’ll show ‘em”?  It obviously meant nothing was too terrible to inflict on prisoners under agency control.

Is this why Conservatives applaud Cheney and Limbaugh and Fox News in their defense of torture in Black Ops prisons?  I wonder if they went to sleep last night thinking of the man CIA  stripped naked and left overnight in a freezing room.  As they left they sloshed a final bucket of water over him and found him the next morning frozen and dead.  That man didn’t sleep the sleep of the powerful.

I love this country deeply because of the beliefs that are the roots of the American experiment in the fragile dream of democracy.  By last night, I was disgusted and ashamed that American politicians would dare to defend brutality to captured prisoners as means to an end.  The defenders of torture have demeaned us all.  What is it, after this, that we can say we stand for?

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