13 January 2009

brains are better than brawn

We’re now in the final week of the Bush presidency. I’m not expecting any miracles from Barack Obama, but perhaps replacing the fear and paranoia of the past eight years with reason and trust in the rule of law would be close to miraculous. Assessing the damage done by the Bush administration, in most policy areas, is a lengthy business. I want to focus on the so-called “war on terror,” a war that by definition can never end, because terror thrives on war.

Karen Greenberg, the executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security, says that the stain on America’s reputation among foreigners and, for that matter, Americans can never be removed. [Well, saying “never” is certainly an exaggeration!]

“And it sullied—not so much our reputation, because that's the obvious—it sullied on some level how we think of ourselves,” says Greenberg. “You can’t undo the damage that torture’s done. [Another exaggeration! We “can’t” undo the damage? More like, “it will be difficult.” I think she can make her point without overstating it.]

“You took something out of a box that has vast repercussions, and gave people a chance and a reason to defend a practice that brings out rather horrific things about human beings for very little, for no gain. So the way to go about the torture thing is in a very definitive way. Which is, we’re not going to do it. The policy prescription is not to have a policy. We don’t torture.”

Our methods in the war on terror, says Greenberg, expose a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of democracy to achieve policy successes. “The biggest cost of torture was that it eroded the confidence of the American people. Because if you choose bullying as your method, you are saying, we don’t trust ourselves to have the skills, whether they are the intelligence skills, or the law enforcement skills, to be the best in the game and the best and the brightest on the issues that are part of our national security.”

Imagine, we really don’t have to be bullies!

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