NEW YORK—I suppose I should take a bow.
For eight long years (years that passed like centuries for the miserables rotting in cages at Guantanamo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib and Diego Garcia and Bulgaria and the U.S. Navy's fleet of prison ships) no one cared about torture. Law professors, politicians and journalists justified it. Even liberals didn't care: There wasn't one major protest march against beating or raping or drowning people to death. Strange but true: The only forces raging against the collective madness that warped the American psyche after 9/11 were human-rights organizations and a couple of cartoonists.
The syndicated political cartoonist Matt Bors and I took point, repeatedly ridiculing and ranting about the Bush administration's torture policies and Americans' tacit tolerance of it in cartoons we knew would be reprinted in only a handful of publications. Editors and readers advised us to "stop obsessing" and "move on." Award committees passed us over in favor of cartoonists who bought Bush's tall tales about WMDs in Iraq. We were blackballed.
At least they didn't shove a flashlight up my ass. That is a favorite interrogation tactic at Gitmo (and Bagram, where President Barack Obama plans to send the Gitmo victims next).
Perhaps the declassification of CIA documents revealing that the CIA waterboarded one man 183 times (why not 182? Why not 184?) prompted Americans' newfound distaste for taxpayer-funded dungeons. Maybe it was the juvenile stupidity displayed by Bush's legal eagles: "As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar," one memo said. Because, you know, they don't have caterpillars in the Northwestern Frontier Province.
Whatever the cause, better late than never (though not for the dozens of fathers, brothers and sons murdered in American torture chambers), but things have come full circle. Americans are against torture again. Some Congressmen are calling for investigations into Bush's war crimes. President Obama, forced to backpedal on his infamous inclination to "move forward" rather than compel the CIA's goons to "look over their shoulders" while applying electrodes to the genitals of 14-year-old Afghan boys, seems amenable to throwing the Dirty Half-Dozen—the six Bushie lawyers including John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Alberto Gonzales—to the tender mercies of a special prosecutor.
My favorite aspect of the discussion involves whether torture works. "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country," Obama's national intelligence director argued last week. Key suspects "provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs," countered The New York Times about the documents.
I don't care if torture works. I don't give a damn if torture could reveal a plot that would cost millions of lives. I would rather die in a terrorist attack than live in a society that relies upon torture to protect itself. But what do I know? Maybe I've just been brainwashed by my Christian upbringing.
As I wrote two weeks ago, the Dirty Half Dozen lawyers ought to be prosecuted for constructing an illegal cover-your-ass framework to justify heinous acts by government torturers. An attorney who perverts logic and the law as follows is far too dangerous to be allowed to walk among free men: "Although we do not equate a person who voluntarily enters a weight-loss program with a detainee subjected to dietary manipulation as an interrogation technique, we believe that it is relevant that several commercial weight-loss programs available in the United States involve similar or even greater reductions in caloric intake."
An officer of the court who doesn't pack up his office supplies and type up a resignation letter rather than write the following suffers from both psychosis and stupidity: "Although the abdominal slap technique might involve some minor physical pain, it cannot, as you have described it to us, be said to involve even moderate, let alone severe, physical pain or suffering." Do a Google image search on John Yoo, author of many of the torture memos: The pudgy little pig would break down in tears if he ran out of hand lotion.
Jail the lawyers, preferably for life. But don't forget their bosses. As has been amply documented, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and others personally signed off on specific acts of torture. They ordered the Dirty Half Dozen to draft those memos to provide them with legal cover.
Lawyers don't write law; they interpret it. If a corporate executive relies on bad legal advice, he goes to jail. Hiring a crappy lawyer isn't a defense. Bush and his war council should spend the rest of their lives at Guantanamo. Since he's continuing Bush's detention policies, so should Obama.
And let's not forget the CIA and military torturers, the so-called little fish. As servicemen learn during training, it is illegal to follow an illegal order. An order to torture or abuse prisoners of war violates U.S. law and international treaties, as well as international law. When given such an order, it is every person's moral and legal obligation to refuse it, even if it means facing a court-martial. Everyone involved with torture deserves prosecution, including the physicians and psychologists who sat in on sessions that involved "harsh interrogation techniques."
At the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II, hatemongers like the Jew-baiting newspaper publisher Julius Streicher were prosecuted for promoting racist Nazi ideology. Surely an analogy can be found for right-wing torture fans like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who repeatedly fanned the anti-Muslim hatred that led to our current shame. Even Bill Maher, libertarian-cum-liberal post-ABC firing, was pro-torture after 9/11.
In the end, of course, we are all to blame. It was the American people's moral obligation to rise up as one against a government that carried out torture in our name. Yet we didn't lift a finger. If only there was a prison big enough to hold all of us.
Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?