The Magazine

Telling the Truth

Let the hearings begin!

May 4, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 31 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Some Democrats, from the White House on down, are pushing the idea of a "truth commission," à la South Africa, to deal with the "harsh measures" used by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda detainees. Good. Let's have lots of truthtelling. Please bring it on.

Let's tell the truth about Bush's conduct of the war on terror, which is that it's been a success. His ultimate legacy hasn't been written--Iraq is improved, but not out of danger--but the one thing that can be said without reservation is that the country was kept safe. He delivered on the main charge of his office in time of emergency, in a crisis without guidelines or precedent. Attacks took place in Spain, and in London, in Indonesia and India, but not on American soil, which was the obvious target of choice. Bush couldn't say this before he left office, for obvious reasons, and after he left, attention switched to the new president. This little fact dropped down the memory hole, but with all this discussion, it will rise to the surface. Let the hearings begin!

Also dropped down the memory hole--along with the names of all the Democrats who thought Saddam was a menace who cried out for removal--is what the ambience was like in late 2001 and 2002, when fears of anthrax and suitcase bombs ran rampant, and people on all sides tried to seem tough. Let's tell the truth about all the liberals who went on record supporting real torture, not to mention the Democrats in Congress, when it was cool to want to seem tough on our enemies, who couldn't be too warlike. Then war and tough measures stopped being cool, and "world opinion" became more important. Nothing like statements under oath to revive ancient memories! And rewind the tapes.

Let's get at the truth too about the word "torture," which to different people, means different things. Some think "torture" means standing on the 98th floor of a burning skyscraper and realizing you have a choice between jumping and being incinerated. Some think torture is being crushed when a building implodes around you. Some think torture is not thinking you might drown for several minutes, but looking at burning buildings on television and knowing that people you love are inside them. They remember that being crushed, incinerated, or killed in a jump from the 98th story happened to almost 3,000 blameless Americans (as well as a number of foreigners), and that 125 Pentagon employees were killed at their desks, while many survivors suffered terrible burns. They think the choice between stopping this from happening again by slapping around or scaring the hell out of a cluster of brigands, or leaving the brigands alone and letting it happen again, is a no-brainer.

Not much polling has been done to date about attitudes on waterboarding and torture held by the general public (as opposed to MoveOn.org and the Washington press corps), but it would surely be done in the event of hearings and trials. Not many people think being slapped hard is the same thing as having to jump from a building. Democrats might find the truth about this to be inconvenient indeed.

Let's get at the truth, not merely about the administration before this one, but of all of the ones that came before that. If we prosecute people in government who try to save American lives by doing "harsh" things to America's enemies, why should we stop at 2001? There's President Truman, who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing and injuring tens of thousands of innocent people. Impeach him in retrospect, for the women and children. Talk about harsh. Go back before him, and impeach FDR: Without him, there would have been no Manhattan Project, specifically conceived to be "harsh" on the enemy. And why stop with them? There's Ike, and John Kennedy, who were in the armed forces, and certainly meant to cause harm to the enemy. They were all, of course, much too "harsh" to be president. Good liberals ought to be troubled by that.

And talk about troubled, let's tell the truth about a common assumption of America's leaders, till now. In war, they tried to minimize casualties, but they put the survival of their people and allies above the comfort and ease of aggressors and enemies. Truman dropped the bomb because it was his duty to save the Allied and American servicemen who would have died or been wounded in the fight for the Japanese homeland. Perhaps if another September 11 occurs because "harsh" methods are dropped from the repertoire, Senator Patrick Leahy might want to visit the victims' survivors and explain that their relatives are no longer with us because of his passion for the good opinion of the rest of mankind.