"It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, ‘Oh, much good will come of that.’ Sometimes in life you want to keep walking… Some of life has to be mysterious."This quote is a strange confession, admitting that torture is wrong but necessary, as if there could be no other way. It even expresses the limits of personal responsibility as Noonan notes there are some things a person, and a country, must walk away from.
Noonan never accounts why the political actors favor torture but the military actors, such as John McCain or a host of Generals, believe it is wrong. Maybe because it is morally wrong; maybe because it is the complete breakdown of individual autonomy; maybe because in its totality, it produces bad information and wastes resources; maybe because it puts the torturer in an unforgivable position; maybe because its use threatens US troops; maybe because there are better methods of interrogation when people who are properly trained engage the prisoner; maybe because that the costs outweigh the benefits, which is the real focus of the Blair public and private discussion on torture (see here and here, or the discussion between torture as a tactic and as a strategy.) But these maybes are never elaborated on as it is best to "walk on by" since, as Slate notes, the arguments supporting the notion that torture works by the torture apologists (Hannity, Levin) do not survive scrutiny, or, the claims survive scrutiny only by those who do not evaluate evidence or do not understand the concept of chronology.
If nothing else, because of these memos, the US needs to have a public debate about the nature of torture even if ideology distorts the debate and even if it brings down the Obama presidency. For far too long public commentators have been able to assert, without evidence, that torture worked. (See Scarborough, Joe, every day on Morning Joe, who avoids a discussion of torture's criminality or unconstitutionality to assert this discussion is the "criminalization of politics." The "rule of law" only applies to sex, I guess.) More information needs to be released, especially in regards to the totality of torture: the damage inflicted, the information received, the escalation of the war, the attempt to create a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. And this needs to be public, diminishing the filter of the Mass Media, even if the release of this controversial information diminishes the Obama presidency but restores the Constitution.
Yet, the role of torture by the US in the War on Terror provides an interesting commentary on the nature of language and the shaping of reality by ideology.
Noonan's argument is Reaganesque, especially in the plausible deniability, Iran-Contra sort of way. Something happened, and it appears as if it is bad or unconstitutional. Yet, America is a good nation, or as Reagan stated in his Evil Empire Speech:
And finally, that shrewdest of all observers of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, put it eloquently after he had gone on a search for the secret of America's greatness and genius - and he said: "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America . . . America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."If the premise is that America is good, hence "American Exceptionalism," then all evidence to the contrary must be overlooked or discarded. We must have a "mystery" and we must "keep walking" if any evidence threatens the social mystery and social hierarchy inside the US.
I am not one to engage the "decline of civilization" argument, but at the very least, I believe that the US, especially Conservatives in the US, are in a Thucydidean Moment where language loses its meaning and this loss of language threatens the political and social order. If nothing else, "Enhanced Interrogation Technique," especially from a political ideology that despises politically correct language, is nothing more than a corruption of language and thought.
But nothing expresses the Decline and Fall of the America Empire like Fox News. In the clip below, Shepard Smith drops the F-Bombs over torture. "We're America, we don't torture," Shep declares. Well, Shep, the evidence shows we torture. Consequently, the questions remain, who are we? We are no longer good, right Noonan?, (unless we walk away). Does that also mean we are no longer America?
Or, the better version.