Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No pardons for torturers!

A post on Daily Kos is a wonderful expression of my own feelings about how Americans should not be expected to take to the streets just to convince the government to prosecute crimes.

I can only fathom that we are supposed to beg.

I think we are supposed to get down on our knees, even grovel for it, and beg that our nation act in accordance with its own laws, with international laws, and with basic decency. We among the more expendable classes are supposed to write passionate editorials; we are supposed to form grass roots movements; we are supposed to make the usual dozens of phone calls, and be ashamed, and debase ourselves -- and then, perhaps, if we are very lucky, and if beg enough and with the right arguments and place enough pressure in the right, most uncomfortable spots, then our own government will relent, and our laws will be followed, and investigations conducted, and if warranted, those responsible will be prosecuted. And we will finally as a nation, at long last, reject torture in practice as well as in words. [...]

Whether or not any of the parties involved are actually convicted, whether even a single one of them see a day of jail time is not the question. Whether we preclude that possibility, as policy of government, is the more damaging question. For in precluding even the possibility of justice, we immunize the act, and if we immunize the act then it is not, in any meaningful sense, actually illegal.

We should not have to beg to have crimes by powerful people treated as seriously as crimes by the powerless. We should not have to campaign to have crimes by Americans treated as seriously as the same crimes committed by people in other countries. And yet that's what the national politicians and commentators are telling us.

Perhaps, in Frank Luntz fashion, we simply lack the correct frame. Perhaps we simply don't have the right word, catchphrase, or slogan to enable people to understand that by not investigating and prosecuting torture, we have made it legal. I realize that there are honest differences of opinion; some people know how our civil rights have been trampled over the past decade and yet believe that that's a good thing. But many more people are simply unaware of what has happened, and that's what framing is for. So after reading that Kos post, consider brainstorming: what phrase on earth will it take to make people realize that we have legalized the unthinkable?

My contribution: "No pardons for torturers!" Refusal to investigate, and pre-emptive refusal to prosecute, is effectively the same as a pardon. If Obama pardoned Bush, Cheney, and everyone else involved in American torture, I think there might be an actual outcry; so let's oppose this by naming it what it is. "No pardons for torturers!"


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