“Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations â€” as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world â€” we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”
— Â Hannah Arendt
(Illustration found here).
Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in 1963 based on the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem and is very up-to-date to describe the current chaos of US torture.
Evil is not trivial, and Frank Rich, one of the most right-on pundits to depict the horrors of modern US life, uses Arendt’s words as the title for his commentary this morning in the New York Times:
Weâ€™ve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years.
But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: â€œBy no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.â€
When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.
Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our governmentâ€™s highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to â€œ24â€; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.
He (Jay Bybee) proposed using 10 such techniques â€œin some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique.â€
Waterboarding, the near-drowning favored by Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition, was prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II. But Bybee concluded that it â€œdoes not, in our view, inflict â€˜severe pain or suffering.â€™ â€
Still, itâ€™s not Bybeeâ€™s perverted lawyering and pornographic amorality that make his memo worthy of special attention.
It merits a closer look because it actually does add something new — and, even after all weâ€™ve heard, something shocking — to the five-year-old torture narrative.
When placed in full context, itâ€™s the kind of smoking gun that might free us from the myths and denial that prevent us from reckoning with this ugly chapter in our history.
President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is.
It wonâ€™t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way.
We donâ€™t need another commission.
We donâ€™t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts.
What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nationâ€™s commitment to the rule of law.
Read Rich’s full piece here.