No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
One of my favorite blog posts is L33T Justice by Kung Fu Monkey. Aside from being very funny and concisely getting at an important truth, it seems to represent a tipping point - one that mirrored my own. Prior to that things had been bad; we were lied into a war of aggression that was being planned well before 9/11, intelligence agencies engaged in 4th Amendment-destroying activities that major journalists appeared committed to reporting incorrectly, and of course we had already set up our modern gulags.
It seemed to me the country was frightened enough to disregard Benjamin Franklin’s warning for a while. As a fallback explanation I was prepared to believe we were simply a more bellicose and primitive culture than I had previously thought. By 2005 there was plenty of evidence that America had decided to make all its decisions with the lizard brain. I hadn’t made my peace with this prospect, mind you, but seeing your country willingly hand the reins to those committed to fearmongering and militarism has a way of blunting the sense of righteous indignation.
That is why when the Democrats took back Congress in 2006 relatively minor episodes like the Libby commutation and Gonzales’ deliberately obtuse testimony were more infuriating than the horrors that came before. There was finally a sense that yes, as a country we went crazy for a while but we were finally getting our bearings. It was happening too late for too many, but it was happening. What the summer of Scooter and Fredo showed was: No, it is not and it will not. Revelations began to trickle out, the first verdicts were finally coming in, and it became unmistakably clear that some of our leaders were criminals who were audacious enough to defiantly live publicly guilty lives. Among the rest of our leadership, there was a critical mass that was too cowardly to do anything about it.
That has been the situation for several years now. For the foreseeable future our government appears content to simply ignore the great crimes plainly in its midst. There is no sense of urgency, significant new developments are not acknowledged, and the plan seems to be to resolutely ignore all of it lest some turbulence disturb the ruling class. For those of us who care deeply about these issues it seems the best reaction now is not angry demands for real investigations and real consequences (outrage is difficult to sustain), but placid, ongoing documentation of the atrocities in order to have as complete a record as possible.
All of this is my somewhat awkward attempt to explain my reaction to Scott Horton’s report on detainee deaths at Guantánamo. It alleges war crimes that go all the way to the White House, it has been out for several weeks now, and continues to be developed. Yet there are no investigations, no hearings, nothing. We just postulate that our leaders did it, refuse to talk or do anything about it, and move on.
The problem is that such a corrosively cynical approach to governance causes foundational damage, and typically it is not recognized until the whole thing collapses. No one thinks anything will come of it, but nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse either. In fact, a vignette from that period comes to mind; I recall seeing video of this as reported by the New York Times:
The next day [Romanian leader Nicolae] Ceausescu himself in effect brought the revolt to Bucharest, when a crowd of 100,000 he had summoned to denounce the Timisoara revolt suddenly took up a chant of ”Timisoara! Timisoara!” The last televised image was Ceausescu’s shocked face shouting ”Be quiet!” That moment, all agree, finished him.
The investigations on Iraq in Britain and Guantánamo torture in Spain seem remote and of little interest right now. The erosion of credibility and good will that they symbolize is easy to ignore as well. In fact, the whole thing is. If anything comes of all that, however, we will be oblivious to it - carrying on as if nothing will change until the moment we, like a clueless dictator, look on uncomprehendingly as our world turns upside down.
That probably will not come to pass, though. The odds favor stagnation. I used to think it was a matter of getting the word out, making enough noise, keeping the issues alive and waiting for our political and media elite to finally catch on. Horton’s reporting, and the radio silence greeting it, puts the lie to that. We can - and must - continue to catalog these evils, but out of respect for the historical record and not any expectation that those responsible will be called to account. It’s L33T Justice, baby, and everyone gets a pass.