Highway 23 Revisited II: DOJ Torture Inquiries End

Middletown, Calif.: Main Street & Odd Fellows Hall 5/15/11

US 23 runs flat and straight through large farms between Marion and Toledo, Ohio.  When farmers fertilised fields with a winter’s hog manure, a young driver had 90 miles to think about the contradictions of beauty and corruption, of the straight and the true – and about the smell![1]


Drowned out by the convention cheering, Muslim jeering and Romney thudding was the Obama Justice Department’s scuttling on Aug. 30 of the last CIA torture investigation.

Both the planners and perpetrators of this dire exercise of American exceptionalism are now free of any liability for its consequences – at least in this life.  They can look forward to their pensions as law professors, Federal appeals court judges, Federal agents, government officials….

This now unrightable wrong makes up no small part of today’s Arab grievances.


Administrations decide with less justification to treat offending security forces as Jesus did the adulterer whose accusers melted away:  ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.’  (John 8:11)[2]  In post-Biblical times, it turns out often the forgiver has absolved more than he reckoned.

A lengthy Associated Press story a week after Attorney General Holder’s announcement suggests the pattern has held.  It summarises a 154-page report by Human Rights Watch on the torture and rendition of Libyans to the Gadhafi regime after 9/11.  Said AP reporters Sarah El Deeb and Lee Keath:

The report also paints a more complete picture of Washington’s close cooperation with the regime of Libya’s former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Islamist opponents of Gadhafi detained by the U.S. were handed over to Libya with only thin “diplomatic assurances” they would be properly treated, and several of them were subsequently tortured, Human Rights Watch said.

 “Not only did the U.S. deliver (Gadhafi) his enemies on a silver platter, but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first,[“] said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

No matter how many times I read about the Bush II Administration’s cozy relationship with the Lucifer of Lockerbie, I am shocked.  Americans just don’t do this, dozens of WWII and Cold War books and flicks taught me….


In the spirit of the exceptionalism that infects every American – me included – I’ll only consider an aspect of how this affects us.  For the second time in a quarter century, we have allowed administrations to authorize ventures inconsistent with principle and policy and punished no one for them.

Iran-Contra and Torture were the responsibilities of, respectively, the Reagan-Bush I and Bush II-Obama Administrations.  The second was a larger reprise of the first’s coverups, half-hearted prosecutions, negligent (at best) congressional oversight, and a commitment to look forward instead of back so we can get on with our momentarily perverted mission.

Noting the parallels between the Torture follies and Iran-Contra is as intellectually satisfying as performing the same exercise on Iran-Contra and the FBI/CIA misdeeds the Church Committee exposed in 1975.  And pointless.

If you’ve ever trained a dog or a horse, you know you have to be clear and consistent in how you expect the animal to behave.  Bad acts must have consequences, preferably immediate.  Misbehaviour uncorrected will be repeated, the trait reinforced.

Security forces — police, FBI, CIA, military — work the same way.  Precisely the same way.

President Obama and every other president confronted by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the security forces prefers ‘looking forward and not backwards’.  The bad owner hopes an unpunished animal won’t bite or jump up or kick again.  But it always does.  A few yanks on a choke collar are all that are required to prevent predictable acts which will have unpredictable consequences.


It should disturb the forward-looking that in this instance past performance does predict future performance.  And each recurrence is worse than the last.

The forward-looking should watch an old movie, one of the greats: ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964).  They should consider an alternative, unhappy ending.

It can happen here, and for 60 years, our commanders-in-chief and their Departments of Justice have done little to prevent it.


           1. H/T: Bob Dylan and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965), a homage to US 61 in his home state, Minnesota:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

           2.  For illustrations of the sins committed by modern translators of the Bible, check the comparison of this marvelous passage from the King James Version with its inferiors.  They are conveniently gathered here.