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More Books from War Criminals

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

No, I’m not going to write about that guy. I’m not going to provide a link to his book that came out this week, or an image of it at the top of the post. I don’t promote the works of war criminals. But how about a link to this post two days ago by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate?

I want to quote her, but I don’t want to mention the author of the new book by name. Let’s call him Dr. Evil. I’ll replace appearances of his real name with that.

It’s currently fashionable to believe that political and ideological battles are “real,” and it is the law that is empty symbolism. But Dr. Evil stands as an illustration of the real-life, practical value of the law. Torture really did become legal after 9/11, and even after it was repudiated—again and again—it will always be legal with regard to Dr. Evil and the others who perpetrated it without consequence. The law wasn’t a hollow symbol after 9/11. It was the only fixed system we had. We can go on pretending that torture is no longer permissible in this country or under international law, but until there are legal consequences for those who order or engage in torture, we will only be pretending. Dr. Evil is the beneficiary of that artifice.


Most of agree that we should not be a nation of torturers, and that torture has tarnished the reputation of the United States as a beacon of justice. Most of us do not want warrantless surveillance, secret prisons, or war against every dictator who looks at us funny. We may be bloodthirsty, but we aren’t morons. On his most combative and truly lawless positions, Dr. Evil still stands largely alone.

The tragedy is that it doesn’t matter if we are all Dr. Evils now. That there is even one Dr. Evil is enough. He understands and benefits from the fact that the law is still all on his side; that there is only heated rhetoric on ours. As John Adams famously put it, the United States was intended to be a government of laws, not of men. Dr. Evil is living proof that if we are not brave enough to enforce our laws, we will forever be at the mercy of a handful of men.

By the way, I’m not letting Obama off the hook on this. His decision to look forward, not backward is the reason the law is still on Dr. Evil’s side. It didn’t have to be this way.

Amy Davidson managed to slip in a good line about Dr. Evil in a post at the New Yorker blog, also two days ago. The subject was the imminent end of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I’ll pick it up in mid paragraph:

These soldiers have already given quite enough, and still are — sixty-six servicemembers died in Afghanistan in August, the highest toll for any month yet. And, again, they gave up part of themselves by lying: an Air Force Captain said, “It’s a sanity issue…How many times can you lie before you go completely nuts?” (This would be a good week to ask that of Doctor Evil.)

Categories: Books, Politics, Torture
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