Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can "Saving Face" Bring an "About Face" on Torture

Originally posted at Daily Kos and Oxdown Gazette 4/1/09 (Revised here)

Most of us posting at this website are horrified that our country tortured prisoners under our care. Most of us have also written diaries, posted comments, written letters to the editor and made phone calls to politicians demanding accountability for those Bush administration officials and possibly Democratic officials who enabled this to happen. Most of us have also criticized the Obama administration for refusing to initiate a criminal investigation when we all know that one is warranted. And most of us don't understand why more people aren’t demanding accountability. But maybe it's not about what most of us do maybe the key to getting Obama to act requires us to
take a critical look at what some of us don't do.

Awhile back I started searching for pieces critical of the Bush torture program that were written by conservatives. I thought if we had more conservatives on record, who were critical of the Bush torture program, that it would make it much more difficult for the traditional media to dismiss people, who wanted accountability for these crimes, as just “liberal score settlers”. I also thought it would prevent "bi-partisan" loving Obama from ignoring this issue. While I found a few conservative pieces here and there I realized that I wasn’t finding very many. And then I started wondering why weren’t there more of these critical pieces? What's wrong with these people?  

Unlike some, I don’t believe that most conservatives approve of torture. I think the ones who do are in the minority among conservatives but just happen to be the loudest voices. So if I was right about this, why weren’t there more conservatives out there condemning the obvious torture that occurred? 

I think I may have stumbled upon one reason to help explain why some of these conservatives weren't speaking out. On Monday I did a Google search on torture and wound up on a moderate/conservative website reading a piece by Jason Arvak that took issue with another piece at that same site by Eric Martin whose piece theorized that because Petreaus had come out against torture that it would be difficult for him to win the Republican nomination. The person challenging this remark, Jason Arvak, stated that torture is NOT a core conservative value. Mr. Arvak's comment piqued my interest so I posted a comment to his blog post. What I learned during the discussion was that evidently one of the reasons that some of the rank and file conservatives are not voicing criticism of the Bush torture is because they are afraid that if they give an inch they will appear weak in the eyes of their enemies (Us). In other words, they are not treating this issue as a rule of law issue, as they should do, but as a partisan issue to be defended at all cost.
"It ignores the hyper-partisan atmosphere within which conservative bloggers are forced into a siege mentality where any concessions are perceived as a sign of weakness by merciless leftist attack dogs." - Jason Arvak
Now why is any of this inside the conservative camp information important to those of us who would like to see a criminal investigation of the Bush torture program? Why should we care about the self-imposed predicament that these right-wingers find themselves in? I think it’s important because it's just possible that we have an opportunity to allow these rank and file conservatives to save face so that they can feel comfortable enough to begin standing up for their own principles again. Do I think they should have enough guts to do this on their own? Sure, but obviously it hasn't happened yet so maybe we can help that process along be giving them the opening to save face.  

I ran across this piece on the Conflict Research Consortium's website called Face Saving that gives a pretty good description about the concept of saving face.  

Face saving (or saving face) refers to maintaining a good self image. People who are involved in a conflict and secretly know they are wrong will often not admit that they are wrong because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. They therefore continue the conflict, just to avoid the embarrassment of looking bad.
It then talks about how gloating can wreck the process.  

One aspect of this principle is the rule of not gloating or bragging when one has won a victory. Gloating makes the other side look bad and feel badly, which can encourage them to withdraw their cooperation with any previous agreements.
Now I know some people would prefer to see these conservatives nailed to the wall rather than helped out of their jam. I can certainly understand that feeling myself. Some of these people are real jerks (so are some people on the left and in the center) and I have no sympathy for them but some of them just got caught up in defending Bush because they initially thought it was a garden variety political attack not something of substance. By the time they realized their mistake they'd already committed themselves and didn't know how to get out of it. For these people, in their mind, our "gloating" provides them with an excuse to keep them solidly in the "defend Bush camp" when they really feel very uncomfortable defending Bush on torture.  

I know gloating can be extremely satisfying but in the larger scheme of things is it worth it? Is it worth sabotaging our long term goal of investigations for the short term pleasure it provides? I'm certainly not advocating that we grovel and pretend that they were correct to defend Bush because they weren't. I'm also not suggesting that it's in any way our fault that they won't do the right thing just because we gloated because that's just ridiculous. I am, however, suggesting that if we use this knowledge about the power of allowing our adversaries to save face to help convince these conservatives that this is a rule of law issue and not a partisan, protect your party at all cost issue that we may get more people advocating for accountability. Anyway it's at least something to think about.

This piece by Jeff Jacoby from The Boston Globe may give us an idea of how to begin to bring these conservatives along. Mr. Jacoby is clearly a Bush man yet he has written this critical piece about the torture program. The angle that he uses may be one that we can also use to help prod these conservatives into recognizing that this is not a partisan issue.  


As regular readers know, I write as a war hawk. I strongly support the mission in Iraq. I voted for President Bush. I believe the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism is the most urgent conflict of our time.

But none of that justifies the administration's apparent willingness to countenance -- under at least some circumstances -- the indecent abuse of prisoners in military custody. Something is very wrong when the Justice Department advises the president's legal adviser that a wartime president is not bound by the international Convention Against Torture or the US laws incorporating it. Or when that legal adviser tells the Senate, as Alberto Gonzales did last week, that ''there is no legal prohibition under the Convention Against Torture on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment with respect to aliens overseas."

If this were happening on a Democratic president's watch, the criticism from Republicans and conservatives would be deafening. Why the near-silence now? Who has better reason to be outraged by this scandal than those of us who support the war? More than anyone, it is the war hawks who should be infuriated by it. It shouldn't have taken me this long to say so.

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