The man seemed unperturbed by the question. He shrugged and replied, "I was a man when they allowed me to be a man. When that was no longer possible, I became a beast."
That reply, and the expression on the man's face as he said it, the casual way he tilted his head and lifted his shoulders, has stayed with me for more than a score of years. I was horrified and fascinated by it.
Flash forward to December 16th, 2008, a mere 3 days ago. ABC New's Jonathan Karl had the following exchange with Vice-President Richard B. Cheney:
Karl: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?The "tactics" to which Karl refers, and which Cheney here admits to authorizing, included water-boarding, which has been defined as torture by the United States since 1903. The United States prosecuted Japanese military officers after World War II for employing this tactic against American prisoners-of-war.
Cheney: I was a ware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.
Karl: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?
Cheney: I don't.
The New York Times editorial board has called for the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate the matter. They name former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as well as Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington, as possible targets for criminal charges in the matter.
The Democrats in Congress, even with their recent successes at the polls, seem reluctant to go down this path. One imagines that they perhaps might fear the degree to which they could be held as having been complicit in the whole matter. Especially craven and worthless Nancy Pelosi. And Barack Obama has already shown that he has little interest in holding the Bush administration accountable, despite his earlier rhetoric.
And, to be sure, the mindless (and diminished) hoardes of fake patriots will whine enough to provide cover for cowardly Democrats so that the latter can shirk their duty. One can already hear indignant protestations of "coddling the terrorists."
Never mind that professional interrogators insist that torture is not an effective method for extracting information, I still remember the face of that creature that sat across the table from Geraldo all those years ago. It was the face of something no longer human.
Dick Cheney is a beast. Donald Rumsfeld is a beast. Alberto Gonzales and David Addington and all those others are beasts. But, god damn it, I'm not a beast!
We must either have a special prosecutor to investigate the matter and bring criminal charges or we must consign ourselves to being a nation of beasts.