NEW YORK--"If American life and values change radically because of the attacks," ABC's Sam Donaldson wrote, ten days after 9/11, "the terrorists will have won."
As photo after photo confirms story after story of systemic torture, rape and murder by American servicemen, CIA goons and mercenary rent-a-cops in U.S. concentration camps from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad to Bagram Air Base near Kabul to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a legion of right-wing fifth columnists is finally revealing themselves as a band of wannabe fascists.
Incredible as it seems, these "Americans" actually approve of torture.
Talk radio king Rush Limbaugh, comparing the SS-style siccing of vicious German shepherds on Iraqi POWs to a fraternity initiation prank, led the charge of the torture apologists: "All right, so we're at war with these people. And they're in a prison where they're being softened up for interrogation. And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it's pretty thoughtful. Sounds to me in the context of war this is pretty good intimidation--and especially if you put a woman in front of them and then spread those pictures around the Arab world." If cruelty is carefully calibrated to cultural mores, who cares whether it's wrong?
Besides, argues El Rushbaugh, the torturers were just funnin': "You ever heard of emotional release? You heard of need to blow some steam off?" Boys (and girls) will be (psycho) boys.
Days after articles of impeachment were introduced against him in the House of Representatives, the indefatigable Don Rumsfeld told a Senate committee that even now, even after Abu Ghraib, denying POWs sleep, starving them, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and other forms of torture are still being inflicted upon inmates--guilty or innocent and always uncharged--throughout his Defense Department gulags.
His reception was a friendly one.
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment [of Iraqi POWs]," spat Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a card-holding member of the Party of Lincoln, to fellow members of the Armed Services Committee. "You know, they're not there for traffic violations. They're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents."
Actually, according to the Red Cross report on Abu Ghraib, 90 percent of the detainees had been "arrested by mistake."
Inhofe's rant continued: "I have to say when we talk about the treatment of these prisoners that I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisons." Yup, that's no doubt the expression on their faces: gratitude.
"Some people are overreacting," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after viewing photos and tapes of bloodied prisoners forced to sodomize themselves and one another.
Liberals don't have a monopoly on moral relativism.
You have to go down a long way to get to the darkest cellars of immorality. As Bush Administration apologists point out, there are worse fates--far worse fates--than being stripped, beaten, bitten or even anally raped. A worse fate befell Nick Berg, the cellular phone entrepreneur who was beheaded by Iraqi insurgents. So what's the point? Dishonest attempts to reduce the moral baseline merely reiterate one's own ethical inferiority. The fact that other human beings can conceive of miseries even crueler and more painful to inflict cannot exculpate us for the sins we commit. Is the robber less guilty because he can look down on the kidnapper? Shall we forgive Hitler for killing six million Jews if someone else kills seven?
Other leading lights of conservatism are handling the prison torture scandal by ignoring it. In a TV appearance columnist and Fox News regular Ann Coulter blamed Abu Ghraib on "girl soldiers," but her column has been conspicuously silent about the biggest story since the end of the Democratic primaries. Coulter's last two missives focused on the hot topics of airport security and the need for tighter immigration. Maybe she's playing ostrich to avoid criticizing the Republican conduct of the Iraq war--a conflict so poorly conceived that no one even bothered to name it. Either that, or she approves of torture. In any case, her refusal to condemn American atrocities makes her a torture apologist too.
In a way, so is General Antonio Taguba, author of the famous Abu Ghraib report. He blames the prisoner abuse scandal on "failure in leadership from the brigade commander on down, lack of discipline, no training whatsoever, and no supervision." Yet anyone with half a brain knows that shoving a flashlight up a man's anus as he howls in agony is torture. You shouldn't need instruction in the intricacies of the Geneva Conventions to figure that out.