Andrew Sullivan on Abu Ghraib:
I had missed this essay, originally published on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. I have long been a proponent of a take similar to Sullivan’s about how the rhetoric about the war and the duplicitous shaping — from the top — of the American attitide about Iraqis, terrorists, and other poorly differentiated spooks created a culture in which these atrocities could happen. I differ with Sullivan on one account, which is his assertion that those who “unwittingly made this torture possible” were not as guilty as those who inflicted it. First of all, it is hard for me to see how it was “unwitting.” And secondly, decisions from the president and the upper echelon of his administration henchmen not only “made the torture possible” but essentially mandated it. Early in the essay, Sullivan is unsure whether to take solace in the fact that the torture occurred in a free society where the chilling evidence of it was able to come to light.
I am afraid that the pieties about the persistence of freedom in America are gross self-deception. Free expression and inquiry are the merest, illusory, window-dressing on a society that permits such atrocity as a matter of policy, fails to make a meaningful inquiry into or condemnation of the abuses, and reelects those responsible, enabling them to claim a ‘mandate’ for business as usual. What did the American people do other than stand by and shake their heads in the face of the war crimes committed in their name, and allow ourselves to be sated by the punishment of some sacrificial lambs? The failure to make the atrocities, and the similar demonization of those we hold prisoner in Guantanamo, Afghanistan (and God knows what other places around the world we have not even heard of), a core campaign issue was scandalous. The moral failures involved must be kept in the forefront of American consciousness if those who act in our name are to be prevented from permitting and encouraging further atrocities.