The funny thing is, I watch the news as if it were my job. I'm a news junkie. But I've been stewing in murderous rage most of this week, and I know why, and I know what I have to do about it. What I have to do about it is, stop reading and watching the news altogether for a week. OK, I may log into the Sunday NYT and read the features section. Or, if it's on the same subject, I may not. See, here's another funny thing: I'm becoming the guy everybody always thought I was. My facial expressions look angry even when I'm not; I'm prone to talking in an emotionally-drained sounding monotone even when I'm not, so all my life I've been confronted, over and over again, by people who tell me that I'm a very angry person, and I need to do something about that. Well, I wasn't, before, not really. Anger's hard to sustain, for me; it just bleeds away into no-longer-giving-a-crap within days or weeks if I don't keep getting prodded at. Well, guess what? I keep getting prodded at.
Here's the reason why I have to take a week off from watching the news. What we have seen, since Tuesday, has been the exact thing I've been bitching about for years about the Columbia Journalism School model of "professional" journalism: the belief that every news story has two sides, that the two sides are of equal value, that representatives of both sides should be quoted equally respectfully, that it is the job of sources and not journalists to determine if either or both sides are lying, and that it should always be left up to the reader to decide which side they want to believe. So ever since the Obama administration grudgingly gave in to the Freedom of Information Act request for "the torture memos," every journalistic outlet, but especially the newspapers and the network news, have been full of the same narrative: Side 1 says that these are evidence of intent to commit torture, so we should resolve to never do that again, but we certainly shouldn't "criminalize policy differences." Side 2 says that there was no torture, and it wouldn't matter if it was, because a "necessity defense" applies. And in all the mainstream news outlets, the stories mostly end there. Although there may be an article, way back in the paper (but absolutely not on the network news except during the opinion shows) that says that there are a tiny few people in side 3 who say that these memos are prima facie evidence of torture and that everybody who could have stopped this but didn't should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but the article then goes on to quote sources from side 1 and side 2 who say that these few people are "radical leftists" and shouldn't be listened to.
And if I keep hearing that, the very least that will happen is that I will go stark raving mad, screaming through the streets. If I keep hearing it even longer, without a vacation from it, I may even go on a killing spree. Because that narrative has me angrier than I have ever been in my entire life. What an honest god damned journalist would admit, if one could be found willing to research the facts and then report the facts in public, is that there is no god-damned controversy about any of the fucking facts at all, and only the criminals who were caught in the act, some literally red-handed, say otherwise.
FACT: As a matter of ample court precedent, every single form of "enhanced interrogation technique" they described in those memos, that they confessed to in writing, is something that past criminals have been convicted of in court as torture. It's not a matter of opinion whether or not locking someone in a stress position until their muscles ache is torture. It's not a matter of opinion whether or not slamming people into the wall over and over again is torture, no matter how careful you are not to hurt them. It's not a matter of opinion whether or not punching them in the stomach is torture. It is not a matter of opinion whether or not repeatedly dousing them in near-freezing water is torture. And it is, for gods' sake, absolutely and in no way a matter of opinion whether or not water-boarding is torture. All of these issues have been settled in courts of law, both here in the US and in US-run trials of other countries' war criminals, over and over again. An honest god-damned journalist, if one could be found, would privilege the facts over the opinion; if they did feel any "professional" need to let the criminals who did this make their defense, they would also show not somebody else's contradictory opinion but the actual proven facts to the contrary, and label them as facts.
FACT: As a matter of unambiguously settled US law, it is not up to Barack Obama or anybody else whether or not the people who are accused of doing this should face trial. No honest journalist would ask Obama, or Cheney, or Rush Limbaugh, or anybody for their opinion on whether or not accused torturers, or whether or not people accused of ordering torture, or whether or not people who are accused of facilitating torture, or whether or not people who attempted to cover up torture, should be charged, nor whether or not people who attempted to obstruct the prosecution of those people should also be charged. It's settled law: they must all be charged. The United States ratified the UN Convention on Torture, and that treaty does not allow any excuse whatsoever to not charge people accused of these crimes. There are only two questions about whether or not criminal investigations, leading to criminal trials for the indicted, will occur that an honest journalist would ask. An honest journalist would ask Eric Holder whether or not he intends to obey the law, as required by the UN Convention on Torture. And they would ask Barack Obama what he intends to do if Eric Holder does not. Nothing else about "should there or shouldn't there be prosecutions?" is an open question.
FACT: The people who are accused should not be making their defense in the media, or among the punditocracy, or from the podiums of civic forums, or on their blogs. Nor should they be making their defense in front of some flatly-illegal "truth and reconciliation" committee. The UN Convention on Torture was written, signed, and ratified specifically to take those options off of the table, lest our government or any other succumb to that temptation. There is a forum for the accused to make their defense. If they want to deny that they did what they're accused of doing, they may do so; if they want to deny that what they did meets the elements of the crime charged, they may do so; if they want to argue a "necessity defense" (even though the laws in question admit no "necessity defense" and no court has ever so ruled), they may do so: in court. There is nothing whatsoever political about it when the Attorney General presents evidence of a serious crime to a grand jury; there is nothing political about it if or when the grand jury indicts. Once the grand jury indicts, all the accused are promised their day in court. They may bring as much legal or expert assistance as they like. They are entitled to full procedural protection. They are entitled to voir dire and all other protections against biased juries; they are entitled to all protection against conflict of interest in the judiciary; they are entitled to appeal. But under the terms of the UN Convention on Torture it is just plain simply and factually and unambiguously not legal to settle the matter in any other way; asking people for their "opinion" on how this matter should be settled is dishonest and shoddy journalism.
I personally think, based on the evidence we have seen so far, that there is no question whatsoever that at least half a dozen top Bush White House officials are guilty of ordering torture; that no fewer than several dozen CIA and military personnel (but, praise the gods, no FBI personnel; thank all holy gods that Robert Mueller had at least that much integrity, or at least self preservation) are guilty of committing torture; I think that the four top ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are very probably guilty of covering up torture; I think that President Barack Obama would most likely be convicted by an honest impeachment trial of attempted obstruction of the investigation of torture and that he should therefore be impeached. I could also very possibly be wrong about all of these opinions. I'm also aware of the fact that according to today's Pew Research poll, 75% of all Americans think that we should disobey the UN Convention on Torture and at least occasionally torture prisoners, and don't think that that opinion isn't angering me almost as much as the journalistic coverage of this issue. These are all matters of opinion, and I do not object to them being reported as such.
But I need at least the better part of a week to calm down, and I cannot do that if journalists and members of the commentariat keep treating matters of settled fact and settled law as mere "policy differences." If I try, my rage absolutely will consume me even further than it already has.
Addendum: Why are we doing this? All I can say about that is that Sara Robinson is a lot more generous about this than I am. But you absolutely should read her thought-provoking article "The Truth about Consequences: Conservatives, Progressives, and Accountability Moments," Campaign for America's Future (ourfuture.org), 4/21/09.