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A Sad Anniversary

This has been hard for me to write. It’s part of the reason I haven’t wanted to write anything for a while. I didn’t think I’d be here at this point.

I started my blog because I was devastated that the US was torturing people. Worse, the powers-that-be were making excuses for it. The US has been guilty of crimes before. But in the bad old days that was just it: they were guilty. The thing was to pretend it wasn’t happening. Now they were doing something much worse. They were saying it was okay.

I come from a family that fled Communists, Nazis, and Fascists. (Yes, that was a lot of fleeing and it took three decades.) Maybe that’s made me hypersensitive to the ultimate personal price of dictatorships. They are horrible, awful, terrifying places and nobody really survives. You can try to escape with the clothes on your back, or become subhuman, or die. That’s all. There are no other choices. So it’s a matter of life or death to avoid that road at all costs. Never put so much as one toe on the path that ends in that hell.

There are two hallmarks shared by dictatorships: detention without trial and torture.

We’re doing both. We’re saying that committing crimes is legal. Is there any way to make the rule of law more meaningless?

At first, I never thought that people would stand for it. I knew there’d be a convulsion and the whole country would reject the lethal disease we had. But instead the shock became dulled. Too many people in the US patted themselves on the back for not being as bad as those other real dictatorships. We’d only put both feet on the beginning of the path. That was totally not the same as reaching the end.

You know what? Once you’re on that path, in terms of what happens next it doesn’t matter who started it. It doesn’t matter if you do nothing. All you have to do to reach the end is not get off. It’s downhill all the way.

I had to do something. The whole Government needed to be changed from top to bottom. The people who made excuses for it had to be changed. Corporations, media, education, it all had to be changed.

I didn’t know how to do any of that. What I did was start a blog in feeble protest, five years ago last May. I’d never understood how the Good Germans could stand by while their government went to the devil between the two World Wars. Now I know. I never thought I’d become the sort of person who could understand that.

I never thought I’d see liberals making excuses for bigotry and war, just because it was their own side doing it. I never thought it would hurt to remember how much hope I felt that the long nightmare of criminal government was coming to an end. I never thought I’d find out that it can get worse than having an unpopular dictator. You can have a popular one.

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27 Responses

  1. There are two hallmarks shared by dictatorships: detention without trial and torture.

    We’re doing both. We’re saying that committing crimes is legal. Is there any way to make the rule of law more meaningless?

    No. And I don’t know how we live with decisions like this.

  2. Interesting insights. Thanks.

  3. Quixote,

    Thank for this moving post. I thought there would be an uprising after the Abu Ghraib photos came out. I was wrong. Today I can’t think about any of this without sinking into despair. As far as I’m concerned, we already live in a dictatorship. And the government hasn’t even had to clamp down violently. We’ve just rolled over.

  4. The really sad part is its going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better…

    • yes, I believe that is true because what folks were outraged about when it was done by Bush will be tolerated if we choose to do so under Obama. They say no harsh interrogation techniques will be tolerated, but with so many broken campaign promises I do not believe them.

      • But wasn’t the outrage then, mostly directed at the perpetrators at the bottom of the crime (the executioners so to speak) and not towards the top the policy makers: Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeldt?

        But I’m sure that whatever happens going forward, Obama has his butt covered!

  5. Aw quixote! This is so painful and sad to read. And to have to agree with.

    And I am saddened that not only does it seem like torture is more or less being condoned, but also by the fact that there isn’t more of an outrage over it!

    I know from people working with rehabilitation of torture victims that, almost worse than the actual torture is the silence they are met with from society afterwards.

    I have posted this link before here on TC, but hope you don’t mind me posting it again. A Turkish Human Rights advocate describes how torture was committed at Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib – and how the effect on the victims are everlasting.


  6. We are not a dictatorship. (If we were, everyone on this blog would have arrested some time ago.) We are a dysfunctional democracy. There is a difference.

    • tdraicer: you misunderstand dictatorships. They don’t spring fullblown from the bowels of somewhere. They have to start. People don’t get arrested in the beginning. They just ignore other people being arrested.

    • My point is they don’t have to arrest us to maintain control. If they have to start doing that they can and will. The laws and executive orders are already in place. They already have troops on U.S. soil that can put down dissent. They already control the National Guard at the federal level and have removed control from the governors. They already have the means to deny habeas. It’s all in place, but why should they crack down if they can do as they please without doing so?

      • Aren’t there 3 documented occasions when W said, “this would all be so much easier if it were a dictatorship.”

        Obama is W the second.

        This is why his campaign scared me so much. He lied, cheated and stole out in the open, as did the democratic party. They kept pushing the envelope further and further and not a thing happened. They have the people exactly where they want them.

        My concern is how long will we live like this before we are rioting in the streets the way the Iranians are?

        • I think we missed our moment when we were stripped of our democracy in 2001. I thought we’d be in the streets then — but the moment passed, and things were worse than we may have expected.

          On the anniversary: something inside me has been screaming ever since I found out — how can I say this? — WE torture. I try to blot out my awareness of it but I know that is wrong and the guilt haunts me.

          I also wondered about the Germans and how they could turn their backs on starving and abused people. Yet I don’t give to every panhandler.

          They have lists of people who will be arrested in a national security emergency.

          I also hate the whole argument over whether torture works. Who the hell cares? It’s wrong wrong wrong by any moral compass.

  7. Pips, I don’t mind at all. It’s highly, heartrendingly relevant.

    As other commenters said, worse than anything is the lack of outrage, the silence, the certain knowledge that because of that, it’s going to get a whole lot worse, and the feeling that it all just keeps right on going and there’s not a damn thing we can do.

    Still, that doesn’t let us off doing it, I guess. Studs Terkel once said that the first tool used to birth dictatorships was the feeling helplessness. The more I feel it, the more I see how true that is.

    • But what can be the reason for the lack of outrage?

      I have read on other blogs how sane, intelligent people find it acceptable to use torture … against suspected terr¢rists! Can’t they see, that torture is never, ever, in any circumstance acceptable!

      • I wish I knew. Convenience? Without the energy to fight, you either have to have the moral courage to admit you’re doing nothing about something bad, or you have to pretend it’s good.

        Eventually, when things reach the arresting stage, it’s self-preservation. If you think you or your family are more important than your principles — and it’s hard to blame anyone for feeling that way — then before you know it you can be excusing the most amazing things. My grandmother had stories about people turning in family members that made my hair curl.

      • Torture becomes okay under two circumstances.

        In one, the torturers are convinced that they’re destroying the victim to save him; the Inquisition fell into that category.

        In the other, the torturers have convinced themselves that the victim is not a real human to begin with, and as such has no claim on the torturer’s sense of morality. This is the case with the Abu Ghraib and Gitmo victims. You see its precursors in the right-wing haters like Daniel Pipes and his ilk who would have you believe that all Muslims hate Americans and live only to commit violence against “unbelievers.” You see a lesser degree of it in the obots who suffer the worst cases of CDS and PDS, the ones who are just fine with “hate-f*cking conservative women” and the violent imagery of burning Hillary at the stake or hanging Sarah.

      • how do you boil a frog? Slowly. First you put it in cold water because if you put it in hot water it would jump out. It is a fact that a frog will slowly get boiled to death because it doesn’t notice the water getting hot until it is too late.
        The media picks our presidents and tells us what to care about. We are being boiled to death and our supposed fellow liberals think its okay as long as it is Obama doing it.

  8. One more thing quixote. You say that you know now, how what happened in Germany between WWl and WWll could happen. I know what you mean, but there’s also a very interesting explanation in Sebastian Haffner’s (1907-1999) great book “Defying Hitler”. (Geschichte eines Deutschen. Die Erinnerungen 1914-1933).

    Maybe you know it already? What makes it extra fascinating, is the fact that it was written at the exact same time as events unfolded an not, as most books about that period, seen/written in retrospect.

    [And I love how he made up his pseudonym from a combination of J.S.Bach and Mozart’s Haffner Symphonie!]

    [And I also love your Picasso avatar 😉 .]

    • (Pips, just saw this. Actually, I didn’t mean to say I know what happened. Just that I can understand that pathetic silence which is consent. I’ll have to find that book. I’d never even heard of it.)

  9. Torture is never acceptable under any circumstances. I include the ridiculous ticking time bomb scenario here as well.

    This is my own number one issue with the administration. Covering up what was done, let alone condoning more of it, makes them full fledged war criminals. In order to cleanse the soul of this nation, people must be tried and punished and we must admit what’s been done.

    Outraged? I’m fucking outraged but don’t know where to take it.

  10. I did not speak out when they came for the communists.
    I was not a communist.
    I did not speak out when they came for the union members.
    I was not a union member.
    I did not speak out when they came for the Jews.
    I was not a Jew.
    There was no one left to speak out when they came for me.

    This is not the exact quote but it something I have always remembered.
    I had my children watch the movie ” The Diary of Anne Frank” and told them always be aware it could happen here.

    I am sorry that you are going through such pain. I do not know how to awaken people to what is happening so that something could be done about it.



    • Helen, I was just going to put that comment up – I have that hanging on the wall next to my desk – and that is why whenever I see an injustice I cannot sit quietly -cannot let it go unnoticed.
      The original is etched in stone in Germany:
      When the Nazis came for the communists,
      I remained silent;
      I was not a communist.
      Then they locked up the social democrats,
      I remained silent;
      I was not a social democrat.

      Then they came for the trade unionists,
      I did not protest;
      I was not a trade unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews,
      I did not speak out;
      I was not a Jew.

      When they came for me,
      there was no one left to speak out for me.
      by M. Niemoelier

      We cannot sit idly by. 😦

  11. If Rule of Law is ignored, it is not just the President’s fault. There is something called Separation of Powers which is no longer functioning.

    The Supreme Court isn’t doing what it should, neither is Congress nor the Senate. Checks and Balances are out of tilt.

    The Fourth Estate is partying, and revelling in crude jokes

    Local Government is ailing.

    American elites who once made up the “public policy networks” and “legitimation circuits” of the political system are no longer interested in such questions as torture, UHC, or even open and fair elections.

    American troops were all over Europe in the forties, but it was unheard of at that time for them to be associated with torture. That was because civil society back home would never have countenanced it. It was something that was simply not done.

  12. Thanks for the post.

    I was just reminded today of what danger we’re in. I was talking to an Obot friend who said he still completely trusts Obama and is sure he’s playing some complex chess game, and has complete faith he’s doing the right thing. And said what really makes him angry is when people question Obama. This from what I thought was a very smart liberal. I brought up a few issues about health care, gay rights, and woman’s rights, and the echo of he trusts him and how he things O is playing complex chess. I changed the subject since this is someone I need to work with.

    That’s pretty scary if you ask me. I know some are waking up, but I think there’s a vast “army” that are his loyal followers. I’m not sure how many would question him if he said he needed to suspend congress or anything else.

  13. good grief, Dandy – I had the same conversation over lunch with a colleague who I really thought would have seen throught the smoke by now.

    Sheesh – I wanted to smack him and say “Wake up” but he was willing to have the conversation and we agreed to disagree on some points and he asked me to send him more information about some points.

  14. “You can have a popular [dictator].”

    Yep, Hitler was quite popular until he started losing the war.

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