Reading through the just-released torture memos from the Bush Administration, I find myself wondering where the champions of constitutional principles and the idea of liberty who wandered on to the streets yesterday have been for the past eight years. These men and womyn, who were “spontaneously” incensed by the idea of slight tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, never felt the need to protest when their government was authorizing torture of fellow human beings, abusive practices that the men who wrote the Constitution would have condemned.
Today’s released memos reveal a government that had no respect for American values that were so forcefully proclaimed by the Founders. They are a stain on the nation’s history.
What’s most troubling about the documents is the dispassionate defense of the indefensible that they offer, a lawyer’s bureaucratic search to justify inhuman behavior. The memos don’t concern themselves with the legality or morality of dehumanizing behavior, but discuss the appropriate temperature at which one can be stripped naked and humiliated, the need to check the skin condition of men who, deprived of sleep and privacy to evacuate their bowels, are forced to wear diapers while chained to a ceiling, and the length of time one can be made to feel like he is drowning.
Tea Party participants held no protests when a modern day would-be King George and his cronies violated the fundamental principles by which our nation was founded. They stood silent while respect for human dignity and the rule of law were cast out by a cabal of power-hungry, amoral tyrants who disguised their acts in bureaucratic legalese.
America can do better than to sink to the behavior of the worst of its enemies. Though the British mistreated American soldiers and civilians, George Washington insisted that his troops behave better: “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren…. Provide everything necessary for them on the road.” If during a war against the then-most powerful army in the world, George Washington could afford the decency to treat prisoners well, certainly President Bush should have done the same, while leading the world’s most powerful military.
Perhaps the conservative critics of the current government are right to say that the Founding Fathers would not recognize the government they created in today’s large, powerful federal government. That pales in comparison to the revulsion they would feel knowing that a President and his lawyers had invoked the nation’s founding principles in a defense of practices they would have abhorred.