Torture, Accountability and the Faux-Absolution of Collective Guilt

In a must-read post, Dan Froomkin takes on recent attempts by OG ‘eventheliberal’ Michael Kinsley and pseudo-contrarian Slate guru Jacob Weisberg to whitewash the Bush Admin’s torture record by arguing that “the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out.”

Froomkin points out the elephant in the room–and it’s wearing a press pass:

While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.

Wait, you mean the corporate media may have collectively (and quite willingly) played the role of useful idiot in the tragicomic post-9/11 GWOT farce put on by the Bush-Cheney Review? NO WAIS, DUDE!

Froomkin continues:

Secondly, while it’s certainly worth exploring why any number of people were either actively or passively complicit in our torture regime — and I’m all for some national self-flagellation here — that has nothing to do with whether senior administration officials willfully broke the law, and whether they should be held accountable. It doesn’t change the law.

Froomkin’s case for accountability has since been inadvertently and unintentionally bolstered by–wait for it–former Bush AG John Ashcroft (h/t Think Progress):

The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in this financial meltdown, while preserving the viability of the companies that received bailout funds or stimulus money. Certainly, we should demand justice. But we must all remember that justice is a value, the adherence to which includes seeking the best outcome for the American people. In some cases it will be the punishing of bad actors. In other cases it may involve heavy corporate fines or operating under a carefully tailored agreement.

Ok, so Ashcroft is talking about the financial meltdown, not the widespread erosion of human rights and the complete subversion of the rule of law that occurred under, um, his watch.

Still, as Jack Balkin notes, the principle is universal:

According to this same logic, the government should demand a full accounting of what Bush Administration officials did and it should institute new methods for monitoring and preventing abuses in the future. It should find ways to hold individuals who broke the law accountable without jeopardizing our existing national security. What the government should not do is what Attorney General Ashcroft argues against in the financial context– to sweep illegal actions under the rug or to go easy on the individuals who broke the law because they work for the federal government.

Sen. Chris Dodd underscores the bottom line:

[N]ot to prosecute people or pursue them when these acts have occurred is, in a sense, to invite it again in some future administration.

Special prosecutor NAO.

8 Responses to “Torture, Accountability and the Faux-Absolution of Collective Guilt”

  1. Alex says:

    Not only did much of the media behave in its usual ADHD manner, covering torture hysterically for a day or two then forgetting about it, but also when it did cover the matter it allowed itself to be swept up into the gratuitous debate over whether or not torture was effective, something that played completely into the hands of the administration. By arguing about Jack Bauer and ticking nuclear bombs the media helped distract attention away from what was the real issue: an ethical question about what kind of behaviour we as a society consider acceptable. But thinking about it from a perspective of ethics would have required fewer photos of Kiefer Sutherland gracing the pages and screens, and more discussion of unfashionable things like the constitution and the Bill of Rights…

  2. Booogie-Mann says:

    “We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night” …. ugh, you did .. what the hell was Abu Ghraib about? Months of Abu Ghraib coverage and investigation led to its closure and later demolition. Some of our Soldiers went to jail … Gitmo was part of the Campaign for over a year, the harping over Gitmo has never ceased!! Thus Gitmo has been ordered closed. Where was Froomkin’s outrage over civilians or our troops getting beheaded and bodies shredded in Iraq?? How about all the suicide bombers killing thousands in the streets?? Froomkin questions our tactics but refuses to look at our enemy, because, he cannot.

    No way 3 of the worst Terrorist Murderers being water boarded can be called “widespread erosion of human rights” …. mr mattbastard … really stretching it dude … You guys are just pissed that Holder will not prosecute.

    This issue is really about Lefty revenge at Bush & Co.

  3. Booogie-Mann says:

    Alex: How about the moral question of saving many at the cost of a few proven murderer’s?? To not include this “24” scenario is itself unethical and purposefully shortsighted. To NOT consider the health/safety of the masses is indeed immoral and naive. The ethical question you pose is not really a question, you already claim to have the answer without considering the scenario. Indeed, what behavior will the American Citizenry allow to be wrought on itself ??

    Also, how does the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to Al Qaeda Terrorists??

  4. Kathy says:


    These are two of the most confused, irrational, illogical, nonfactual, unreasoning pieces of garbage I have ever read.

    Really. I mean this sincerely. I am actually trying to be honest, not just gratuitously insulting. I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you are mentally capable of more than this, but assuming you are, I urge you — sincerely, B-M — to seek out some different sources of information.

    I know you don’t believe me, but what you’ve written here truly does not bear any relation to reality. Your belief system on this subject is misinformed. Really, really, truly and gravely misinformed.

  5. Booogie-Mann says:

    Kathy: Was Abu Ghraib not shut down? Were not some US Soldiers put in Jail?? Wasn’t the facility mostly torn down ?? Certainly it was in the news for months. Gitmo has been in the news for years. Both issues commanded policy shifts at the highest levels contrary to Froomkin’s assertion.

    As usual you don’t bother to address or refute any points or issues brought up. Rather, choosing to critique my words in a disingenuous manner … sometimes in haste my words lack perfect prose … while yours continually lack substance.

  6. matttbastard says:

    Um, no offense, Boogie-Mann, but I kinda like to keep comment threads attached to posts I’ve written crackhead-free spaces (I know, I know — once again the infamous intolerance of the militant left made all-too apparent). Ergo, please don’t post here again, lest ye rock-ribbed blatherings be banished forthwith down ye olde memory hole.


  7. uraidiot says:

    It sounds to me, Boogiemann, that mattbastard is trying to personally reenact the fairness doctrine and have it encompass internet blogs now. Either lacking the means with which to debate or in typical liberal style the tolerance to accept anyone elses views….

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