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April 28, 2009

Time for a Truth Commission on Torture

Shepard Smith, it appears, has finally had enough. During a debate over torture on the Strategy Room, a Fox online show last Wednesday – yes, we've gotten to the point in which we're debating torture – the Fox anchor interrupted his two adversaries, slammed the fists on the table, and yelled "WE ARE AMERICA! I don't give a rat’s ass if it helps! We do not (expletive) torture!"

As Fox meltdowns go, it was surprisingly righteous, much more so than the daily breakdowns put forth daily, an hour earlier, by Glenn Beck. Indeed, Smith had a similar moment in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, pointing out the wrongness of it all as Sean Hannity, back in the comfort of the studio, attempted vainly to minimize the damage. But the question that immediately comes to mind is this: If Smith is disciplined by his bosses over this, will it be because of the f-bomb part, or the "we do not torture" part?

Yes, following the disclosure last week of Justice Department memos – after the publication last year of Jane Mayer's The Dark Side – we now have incontrovertible proof: As President Bush stated publicly, again and again, that "we do not torture," his administration did indeed carry out a widespread regime of torture. It was ordered from the top down (not the work of a few "bad apples") in violation of U.S. and international law and given cover by legal reasoning considered egregiously specious by virtually every serious legal scholar.

And as a result, for the first time America is having a debate over whether or not torture is acceptable. And the people involved are now using the Nuremberg Defense ("I was just following orders.") Not a version of the defense – the actual defense.

Unable to keep the "we do not torture" lie up anymore, advocates of the torture regime, led by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, have taken to arguing that not only has torture "kept America safe," but that anyone who disagrees is an unserious weakling who doesn't want America to be safe  and will have blood on their hands next time the U.S. is attacked.  

Those who have argued over the years that torture produces reliable information have typically invoked the "ticking time bomb" scenario, which seems to be utterly fictional everywhere outside the writers' room of 24. This fails to explain why 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed was waterboarded more than 100 times – or how, as an Office of Legal Counsel memo claimed, waterboarding of KSM "stopped" a Los Angeles terrorist attack in 2002 – when the terrorist wasn't even captured until 2003 (the explanation appears to be that KSM admitted, under torture, to the existence of a plot that had long since been called off.)

What should the Obama Administration do as a result of this? They have already released the memos, to their enormous credit. They should now appoint a Truth Commission, independent and outside the purview of the administration, much like the 9/11 Commission was. And if the commission concludes that indictments are what is warranted – for the torturers, for John Yoo and David Addington, or even for Bush and Cheney themselves – then, so be it.

Shepard Smith is right. We are America, and we are better than this. Torture is illegal, immoral and evil – and only on Fox News is saying so considered beyond the pale.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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