Michael Kinsley has a thoroughly disgusting piece up at the Washington Post today.
Most prosecution enthusiasts aren't all that thirsty for the blood of the CIA bureaucrats who actually conducted the torture of suspected terrorists. Their anger and desire for retribution are aimed at the Bush administration officials who ordered the torture of suspected terrorists and those very near the top who knew all about it and apparently approved (or did nothing to stop it), especially the Justice Department lawyers who wrote those fatuous memos claiming that practices such as "waterboarding" were actually within the law.
The trouble with this desire for retribution isn't that it goes too far. The trouble is that it doesn't go far enough. There is another group -- a large one -- that stood by doing nothing while Americans grabbed people off the streets of foreign countries, took them to other foreign countries (because we don't allow this sort of thing in the United States!) and tortured them until they said whatever our government wanted to hear. If you're going to punish people for condoning torture, you'd better include the American citizenry itself.
Indignation comes cheap in our political culture. Polls give the impression that the proper role of voters is to sit like a king passing judgment on the issues as they pass by like dishes prepared for a feast. "No, I'm not in the mood for waterboarding today, thanks. But I think I'll have another dab of those delicious-looking executive-pay caps." Prosecuting a few former government officials for their role in putting our country into the torture business would not serve justice or historical memory. It would just let the real culprits off the hook.
Don't let Kinsley fool you into believing that everyone is equally guilty for torture because it’s just not true. Like most of our establishment media personalities, Kinsley, is projecting his own guilt onto the public in order to mitigate his own miserable failings as a journalist. He knows in his heart that he didn't use his powerful position in the media to inform the citizens about what was really going on about torture. He also knows that when the Abu Ghraib story broke right before the 2004 election, our establishment media, almost to a person, was uncritically repeating the Bush administration claim that this was just the result of "a few bad apples." We also heard that this was just a political stunt designed to take down Bush before the election. And yet, Kinsley wants us all to believe that our citizens, who get most of their news from TV, are the real culprits responsible for torture because, in effect, they should have known that what the media told them was a lie and therefore, they should have voted Bush out of office if they weren't for torture.
While a lot of our citizens can certainly be blamed for being stupid enough to unquestioningly believe our establishment media (especially TV) and our political leaders, they most certainly can't be blamed for torture if they relied upon the media coverage of torture prior to the 2004 election. The only people who can be blamed for torture, other than the Bush officials, are those who knew the truth back then and did nothing or those who continue to do nothing.
Did you hear that, Mr. Kinsley?
Even now, Mr. Kinsley is still trying to keep information about torture from his readers, just like he did back then. Check out Kinsley's own archive at the Washington Post and you’ll see not one column about torture (except today’s column) even though there has been an enormous amount of previously secret information recently released. Yet Kinsley, who won’t even cover the issue now, pretends that he can sit in judgement of others..
The sad fact is that Mr. Kinsley did virtually nothing to protest torture at the time, even though he knew about it, and he’s doing nothing now to ensure that it never happens again. Actually, he’s doing worse than nothing, because now he’s joined with others just like him, who are actively defending the torturers from being rightfully prosecuted for their crimes, all for the sake of political expediency and to downplay their own complicity in torture. Should he and the others be successful in preventing the prosecution of high government officials for their crimes, they will actually enable future lawless officials to cite this precedent as if it were a golden shield that enables them to commit crimes without being held accountable.
But many Americans feel that prosecuting the perpetrators is required for reasons of catharsis or "closure." They also remember being told from their youngest days that no one is above the law. Why should torturers, of all people, be forgiven?
The trouble with this desire for retribution isn't that it goes too far.
When a “journalist” has to misrepresent one of the bedrock principles of this country (equal justice under law) as "retribution" instead of as justice, you know right away that his argument is not a legitimate one. Media personalities, like Kinsley, who didn’t use their influential forum to rightfully challenge these war crimes, at the time, have no standing in my mind to pass judgment on anyone, much less the public who relied upon them for the very information that they failed to provide. I actually think that those in the media who write this kind of apologist garbage, for their own gain, should be run out of the business. They are so intellectually dishonest that no one should ever trust anything that they write ever again. Yes, it’s that bad.
To borrow a few words from Michael Kinsley -
To advocate that there should be no prosecution for war crimes makes the talk about justice in this piece merely decorative, not serious.