I suppose that only if George Bush were to be consigned to the deepest circle of hell in which we all could see his suffering would the Democrats cease their drumbeat for something, anything that will keep the torture issue alive. There is a certain sadistic nostalgia for the at once hapless and brash former president. Nostalgia often wanes. But I am afraid that sadism doesn't so readily. (I know this from my own experience of resenting him for stealing the presidency from my friend Al Gore.) So we are stuck with him for a long time to come.
Still, there are limits to the alternative methods of both embarrassing Bush and trying to make him do penance. The congressional show boaters, like Senator Carl Levin, will probably want Senate hearings and House hearings and maybe even joint hearings by a committee not yet in existence, but on the docket as a proposal at least since 2002. Even Frank Rich, no pussycat on the torture issue, thinks that these would be "Capitol Hill witch hunts." But his alternative is "fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation's commitment to the rule of law." I like Frank very much. Alas, this would actually be a nightmare. There is no consensus in the country on the very issue of torture and certainly not where torture has had so many different manifestations and definitions along the lines of (barely) tolerable to disgusting. Can you imagine a jury of 12 men and women?
Inevitably the suggestion of a national truth commission has been put forward, and also inevitably the silliest notion comes from Nicholas D. Kristof, right adjacent in the Sunday Times to Frank Rich. Grabbing for evidence of how Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo constitute "the first and second cause of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq," he quotes a Navy lawyer as saying because this is because the image of these locales "galvanized jihadis." A pseudonymous Air Force interrogator of prisoners wrote in Harper's and is quoted by Kristof as saying that "hundreds but more likely thousands of American lives" were lost because of "the policy decision to introduce the torture and abuse of prisoners." This is utter fantasy grabbed out of a bag of fortune cookies. We don't know exactly what the sectarian division of the killers of American soldiers in the country is. But Richard A. Oppel Jr. in The New York Times estimated in early 2008 that "Sunni guerrillas and Shiite militants have been killing an average of about one American service man per day." So let's say about half of the U.S. casualties were inflicted by Shi'ites. Does Kristof actually believe that the Shi'a killed our soldiers because some Sunnis were abused in Guantanamo? This is a sign of Kristof's desperation.
As is his proposal for a commission. Of course, he wants a non-partisan commission. It's too bad that Father Hesburgh has been taken to the bosom of his maker. Kristof does have three other names. One is the truly great lady Sandra Day O'Connor, but 80 years old and a former Republican majority leader of the Arizona State. The second on the columnist's dream list is Thomas Kean, the chair of the 9/11 commission about whose shabby behavior during its work and after poor Kristof seems to know nothing.
The third, Lee Hamilton, was Kean's vice chairman in the 9/11 enterprise. Also an octogenarian, Hamilton is the quintessence of smooth and unoffending virtue--boring, boring, weak, without an idiosyncratic thought that anybody has ever heard come out of his mouth. This is a trio perfect for the New York Times op-ed page.
In any event, the commission operated until the end of August 2004, nearly three years after 9/11 and one and a half years after the Iraq war began. Zaccarias Moussaoii and Khalid Sheik Mohammed had long been in the custody of American authorities. The commission must have known or, at the very least, suspected that highly questionable investigative methods had been used against them. Was the commission, from whose ranks Kristof has anointed two to serve on the next blah, blah, afraid of raising the matter?
An intriguing article by Porter Goss, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, on the op-ed page of Saturday's Washington Post raises devastating questions about his colleagues in the Congress and their candor:
A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation's intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA's 'High Value Terrorist Program,' including the development of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an on-going subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.
Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claims to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were actually to be employed; or that specific techniques such as 'waterboarding' were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience.