"We do not torture." 

That depends on the meaning of the words "we," "not," and "torture."

I can't get over this feeling of unreality, that I am actually sitting here writing about my country having a gulag of secret prisons in which it tortures people. I have loved America all my life, even though I have often disagreed with the government. But this seems to me so preposterous, so monstrous. My mind is a little bent, and my heart is a little broken this morning.

Maybe I should try to get a grip. After all, it's just this one administration that I had more cause than most to realize was full of inadequate people going in. And even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Cheney. And after all, we were badly frightened by 9/11, which was a horrible event. And "only" nine senators voted against the prohibition of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of persons under custody or control of the United States." Nine out of 100. Should we be proud? Should we cry?

"We do not torture," said our pitifully inarticulate president, straining through emphasis and repetition to erase the obvious: a string of prisons in Eastern Europe in which suspects are held and tortured indefinitely, without trial, without lawyers, without the right to confront their accusers, without knowing the evidence or the charges against them, if any. Forever.

What have we become? We, the shining city on a hill, the beacon and bastion of refuge and freedom, a country born amidst the most magnificent ideals of freedom and justice, the greatest political heritage ever given to any people anywhere? Who are we?

But we're talking about really awful people, cries the harassed press secretary. People like X and Y and Z (after a time, one forgets all the names of the Number Twos after bin Laden we have captured). Then I hear the familiar tinniness of the fake machismo I know so well from George W. Bush and all the other frat boys who never went to Vietnam.

"Sometimes you gotta play rough," says Dick Cheney. No shit, Dick? Why don't you tell that to John McCain?

I have known Bush since we were both in high school. We have dozens of mutual friends. I have written two books about him and so have interviewed many dozens more who know him well. Spare me the tough talk. He didn't play football. He was a cheerleader. "He is really competitive," said one friend. "You wouldn't believe how tough he is on a tennis court!" Just cut the macho crap. I don't want to hear it.

If you are dead to all sense of morality (please don't let me go off on the stinking sanctimony of this crowd), let us still reason together on the famous American common ground of practicality: Torture does not work. Ask the United States military. Ask the Israelis. It is not productive. It does not yield important, timely information. That is in the movies. This is reality.

I grew up with all this pathetic Texas tough: Everybody here knows you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, and this ain't beanbag, and I'll knock your jaw so far back you'll scratch your throat with your front teeth, and I'm gonna open me a can of whip-ass ...

And that'll show 'em, won't it? Take some miserable human being alone and helpless in a cell, completely under your control, and torture him. Boy, that is some kind of manly, ain't it?

"The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have 'disappeared,' like the victims of some dictatorships." -- The Washington Post

Why did we bother to beat the Soviet Union if we were just going to become them? Shame. Shame. Shame.

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