Torture, Andrew Sullivan and Spielberg

I have been away from blogging the last few weeks primarily because my new (six months) computer's hard drive died. This followed the LCD display dying in week two. Clearly I bought a lemon. Moreover, trying to work on a law review article did not help matters blog.

So now I'm using a relative's new Apple G5. Nice.

But I digress, and, continuing the digression, can now spew forth what might have been posted over the last few weeks. Since I've been away, I have been unable to recommend Andrew Sullivan's excellent critique in TNR outlining why torture as US official policy is devastating to our moral authority and, as a practical matter, persuasiveness, the world over. Its shocking that I feel the need to recommend such an article (I thought this was self-evident), but I commend it to you. The article's (found at -- sorry, no hyperlink from this Apple) money quotes:

"No one should ever underestimate the profound impact that the conduct of American troops in World War II had on the citizens of the eventually defeated Axis powers. Germans saw the difference between being liberated by the Anglo-Americans and being liberated by the Red Army. If you saw an American or British uniform, you were safe. If you didn't, the terror would continue in different ways. Ask any German or Japanese of the generation that built democracy in those countries, and they will remind you of American values--not trumpeted by presidents in front of handpicked audiences, but demonstrated by the conduct of the U.S. military during occupation. I grew up in Great Britain, a country with similar memories. In the dark days of the cold war, I was taught that America, for all its faults, was still America. And that America did not, and constitutively could not, torture anyone.

. . .

"In order to retain fundamental American values, we have to banish from the United States the totalitarian impulse that is integral to every act of torture. We have to ensure that the virus of tyranny is never given an opening to infect the Constitution and replicate into something that corrupts as deeply as it wounds. We should mark the words of Ian Fishback, one of the heroes of this war: 'Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'' If we legalize torture, even under constrained conditions, we will have given up a large part of the idea that is America. We will have lost the war before we have given ourselves the chance to win it."

I should note that I am not so naive as to believe that the US has never tortured anyone. What I find hard to believe is that the Administration would come out and blatantly defend it as they have. This behavior is no longer the acts of "rogue agents;" rather, taken in tandem with recent events, they appear to be vehicles and implementers of US foreign policy. Unbelievable, and shameful.

Lastly (but not unrelated to the above), I saw Spielberg's "Munich" this week, and was not nearly as upset with it as I thought I'd be based on the reviews. While Spielberg's moral relativist viewpoint was obvious, I did not see the film as either whitewashing terrorists or treating the Israelis as mere murderers. What came through was a simple fact: it is the policy and goal of terrorists to murder innocent civilians; that is not (nor has it been) the policy of Israel. Tied to the above, this is a significant point, and again underscores the notion that philosophies and governing principles matter.

By the way, aside from the subject matter, it was also a great film. Yet again (see Ralph Fiennes in "Schindler's List"), Spielberg has pulled a relatively unknown actor (in this case, Eric Bana, who was excellent in the lesser-known film "Chopper") and propelled him to the big leagues with a fine performance. Well done.

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