Free of the Torture of Christopher Buckley

I’ve always tried to be generous with Christopher Buckley. Though I don’t know him, he apparently was insightful enough 15 years ago to assert that I was obviously a conservative if I wrote Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. I cut him some slack, probably out of professional courtesy/envy. I can’t think of anyone else who gets paid to write satirical novels on a regular basis (though I’ve only managed to finish one of them), so slagging him might collapse the whole genre. And many of his articles are funny, though not as funny as he seems to think.

But something he wrote for The Daily Beast yesterday takes him off the protected list. On the subject of the released torture memos, he upbraids many commentators for getting “sanctimonious” about the fact that the US tortured its prisoners at Gitmo and Abu Gharaib. For those of us who are appalled that our government engages in torture, he takes pains to remind us that:

It is, yes, good that the U.S.A. is not doing this anymore, but let’s not get too sanctimonious about how awful it was that we indulged in these techniques after watching nearly 3000 innocent Americans endure god-awful deaths at the hands of religious fanatics who would happily have detonated a nuclear bomb if they had gotten their mitts on one. And let us move on. There is pressing business. (Are you listening, ACLU? Hel-lo?)

The operative question becomes: What do we do now with captive bad guys who possess information that could prevent another 9/11? We may have moved on. They, assuredly, have not.

If he thinks the “captive bad guys” are fleshy repositories about Islamic doomsday plans (especially after being in custody for 6 years), then Buckley’s not as smart as he thinks. (The question of what to do with the men themselves is certainly thorny, now that they will either be tortured more in their home countries or set loose on the streets, living testimony that America is some kind of devil.) If he thinks it’s “sanctimonious” to want to hold people accountable for giving the order to torture, then he’s a suck-up to power.

And since elsewhere in the article he makes joking comparisons between the now-open torture techniques and his rough handling from the senior boys at boarding school, then he’s a turd, pure and simple.

In the days and weeks after 9/11, I remember telling people that we should take every one of those filthy desert barbarians and remove them to places where they could be tortured until they gave up every name in their rolodexes. And if they died in the meantime, small loss. And I bet a lot of other Americans were screaming the same thing. But I’m not a leader. This country would be in ridiculous shape if I were even given an honorary mayorship for the day. But there are smarter, saner heads than mine in Washington. Some were in leadership positions 7-8 years ago. We need to find out who overruled them and made torture our policy against our enemies.

I’m not being naive. I’m aware this country has engaged in secretive torture (and worse) during my lifetime. And at the risk of sounding cynical or paranoid, nothing will ever be done about that. But during this decade, torture has been used as an official tool in the “war on terror,” and I want it investigated, repudiated, degraded, eliminated. Not to have a witch hunt for lower-level ops, but to get to the highest levels, the ones who told the agents in the field, impressed with their machismo in the face of moral uncertainty, to “take the gloves off.” Because when the higher-ups sanctioned torture, they did it in my name as a citizen.

I was ecstatic on the day that Illinois set a moratorium on the death penalty because I didn’t want the state killing people in my name. Regardless of whether it was an effective deterrent for criminals (it isn’t), or whether victims’ families need “closure”, I don’t want Illinois as a policy killing people in my name. It’s too bad it wasn’t done legislatively, but I’ll take it anyway I can.

Sure, people will make political hay out of the torture memos, but such is life. You can get as realpolitik as you want here, but you’re still faced with the question: What’s the right thing to do? If you cast the whole struggle as a battle of civilization vs. barbarism, where did we land? Do you want to look your kid in the eye–or your mother, or John Wayne, or Abe Lincoln–and say, “Yes, some fanatic medievalists hate America, and blew up innocent citizens, so in response we gathered up a bunch of people on the battlefield in that part of the world and tortured them repeatedly over years until they told us some stuff that may or may not be accurate, just to stop the pain, though it wasn’t really torture, more like hazing, really–and it was the right thing to do. We’re all safer now. And they had it coming to them anyway. So let’s move on.”

If that’s how Buckley thinks, then I should be grateful he was honest. Now I don’t have to feel obliged to read any more of his dry satires of Washington. He always seemed too comfortable with the bullshit he was ostensibly making fun of, now we know why. (I’ve always been suspicious ever since I saw a blurb from him on someone’s novel–possibly one by Stephen Fry– praising it as “Trenchantly, tootingly funny.” For that, he deserves a punch in the kiwis and a week chained to Carlos Mencia.)