My own view is that the American conservative movement's embrace or defense of torture was the moment its intellectual collapse became irrecoverable. When conservatism abandoned core values of American decency in favor of pure force, exemplified by torture techniques designed by Communists and Nazis, then it ceased to be conservative in the sense that Burke or Hayek or Oakeshott or Kirk would begin to understand. And watching the intellectual dishonesty of the right on this issue in the last few years has been a watershed for me. It has been, in my judgment, one long, awful surrender of truth to power. Take a moment with me to review what one leading light of the Republican blogosphere wrote when the Abu Ghraib scandal first hit the news in the spring of 2004. Here's Glenn Reynolds:
Of course, it's not the same as Saddam's torture -- which was a matter of top-down policy, not the result of assholes who deserve jail or execution, and will probably get one or both. As with other reported misbehavior, it should be dealt with very, very harshly. But those who would -- as Senator Kerry did after Vietnam -- make such behavior emblematic of our effort, instead of recognizing it as an abandonment of our principles -- are mere opportunists.
But what if the perpetrators of those acts actually were the president and vice-president, men whom Reynolds chose to endorse in 2004? What if, in Reynolds' terms, the torture at Abu Ghraib was indeed "top-down policy"? This is now factually indisputable, according to the bipartisan Senate report issued last week.
So why are those responsible not subject to "jail or execution" or both? Why, since the evidence of Bush's authorization of these war crimes, has Reynolds abandoned his view that such behavior should be "dealt with very, very harshly"?
Perhaps Reynolds has discovered something since Abu Ghraib that has led him to change his mind and now allows him to endorse the very methods he once denounced. We can all change our minds in the face of new data. But doesn't he owe his readers an explanation for why what he once found worthy of the death penalty is now something he actually favors? It couldn't be that he changed his mind as soon as he realized president Bush authorized it, could it? If the president does it, it's not illegal?
(Photo: a prisoner in US custody smeared with his own excrement at Abu Ghraib, under the command of president George W. Bush.)