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Torture: Ho-Hum

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Two days ago, in a speech to the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, George Bush spoke about waterboarding. As reported, for instance, at AOL:

Former President George W. Bush says he has no regrets that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded while under interrogation, and he would allow it again “to save lives.”

Bush made the comment in a speech Wednesday to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Bush said. “I’d do it again to save lives.”

The notion that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed saved lives is repeated relentlessly by Republican torture defenders, who also insist that waterboarding is, in fact, not torture. See, however, the opening passage from this press release yesterday:

A group of thirteen retired admirals and generals meeting in Philadelphia today to talk with Congressional candidates from both parties about the importance to our national security of treating detainees in accordance with our laws and values responded with disgust to comments made last night by the former President that he would resort to waterboarding in the future.

“Waterboarding is torture. John McCain has said it’s torture. We have prosecuted foreign and American military personnel for waterboarding. We even prosecuted a sheriff in Texas for waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture and torture is a crime. It cannot be demonstrated that any use of it by U.S. personnel in recent years has saved a single American life. To the contrary, the misguided belief that torture saves lives has cost America dearly. It is shocking that former President George W. Bush said he would use waterboarding ‘again to save lives.’ When he authorized it the first time he sent America down the wrong road, battering our alliances, damaging counterinsurgency efforts, and increasing threats to our soldiers.”

Alas, as Obama has so famously said, “my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”

I can do no better than quote Scott Horton’s comments this morning in his Harper’s blog (emphasis mine):

Bush’s statement amounts to an admission of his role in a serious crime. He can speak and act without concern because the Obama White House has announced its intention not to enforce American domestic law, under which this conduct was a felony, and not to comply with the unequivocal treaty commitments of the Convention Against Torture, under which the United States is unconditionally obligated to undertake a criminal investigation. In this way, the sins of one regime have been assumed by its successor.

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Categories: Torture

The Imperfectionists, 2

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Tom Rachman

I wrote yesterday about how I came to find myself reading Tom Rachman’s new novel The Imperfectionists, which had been reviewed in the NYT last month by Christopher Buckley and by Janet Maslin. I finished it today and wanted to add a few words.

I loved it. It tells the story of the final months of an English-language daily newspaper published in Rome, each of its eleven chapters focusing on a different character. Following each chapter is a short piece detailing some moment in the history of the paper, from 1953 to 2007, with the chapters and the intermezzi ultimately converging.

Each chapter works well as a stand-alone short story, with Rachman immersing us quickly and deeply into one richly drawn (and imperfect) human after another. The story typically captures just a single moment in the character’s life, but always a revealing one, simultaneously comic and painful, allowing us to understand how the character’s connection to the newspaper fits into the broader context of the character’s life. As well as these stories function in isolation, they mesh magically to form a complex and beautiful novel.

In reading the book, I was reminded of Joshua Ferris’s 2007 novel Then We Came to the End, which also tracks employees of a firm nearing its end. Ferris’s humor was broader; it took longer for the pain to sink in. But both authors are masters at capturing office life, the connections formed by people not by choice but because they find themselves working together. If you haven’t read Ferris’s book, I suggest you read the two in succession.

Categories: Books