of waterboarding authorized by the Bush administration is the smoking gun. It’s now impossible to overlook that there existed a program of systematic American torture.
This is a problem for the new administration. Torture trials are not going to get them any credit, or earn them any favors. They’ll take the moral superiority, but would just as soon leave aside the practicalities of placing specific blame.
They’re worried, though, that it’s not going to go away. They’re obviously going back and forth right now, trying to figure out which side they ought to be on. The decision
to release the secret reports
was one impulse; the move to reassure the CIA torturers that they’re above board, another.
But it’s pretty unavoidable. Because the torture was carefully rationalized, the documentation is going to be bureaucratic and meticulous. We will have dispassionately recorded in hundreds of hours of video unimaginable brutality—our dispassion will make the brutality all the more vicious. And it will reach, of course, to ever-and-ever higher places. You don’t do this stuff without covering your ass.
The problem for the Obama administration is that if the national security apparatus
finds itself under siege it’s going to try to undermine the White House at every turn (spies are major leakers). As bad, the intelligence community, already a lackluster performer, gets more sullen and unresponsive.
But in the end, there really is some shit you can’t ignore. For one thing, the international community is going to hold this over us. For another, you don’t create the kind of enmity that the Bush people created and not have people pursuing you for the rest of your life.
It’s clear where this is going. This is a very specific story line. Indeed, the villain already knows he’s been made as the villain and is beginning to react. And with his particular brand of implacableness and self-righteousness, I’d guess he’s going to continue to react in a way that will most antagonize the Obama people, who have most control over revealing the details of the torture story line. He’s already enlisted Fox News in his defense, calling for disclosure of the information
the torture got us (knowing, of course, that’s the secret stuff, which won’t be released).
Curiously, George Bush will probably slip away.
But the torture investigations, which will shortly begin, and broaden, and offer the alternative history of Iraq, the war on terror, and all our secret cruelties and obsessions, will bring down Dick Cheney.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com.