We Tortured

When the Abu Ghraib story broke, it seemed a literally incredible spectacle. The president himself expressed shock and disbelief and argued that it was the antithesis of American values. For a while, most Americans accepted this narrative—of a few “bad apples” improvising sadism on the night shift, the kind of thing individuals sometimes do in the context of a chaotic war. But in the past year, we witnessed a tipping point in the recognition of the enormity of what had occurred. As White House memos defining torture out of existence came to light, it became empirically irrefutable that Abu Ghraib was an exception to presidential policy only insofar as it wasn’t implemented by properly authorized personnel. The president eventually conceded earlier this year that he had indeed convened a group of his closest advisers to devise and monitor “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Guantánamo Bay long before the Abu Ghraib scandal; the attorney general admitted that the president had even authorized waterboarding, a technique that easily qualifies as torture in international and domestic law. It took a few years, but finally the real narrative emerged. The myth of American torture became the fact of American torture.

But something else happened as well. The chief defenders of these methods among the presidential candidates—Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani—failed to gain traction in the primaries, and the one Republican who has consistently opposed these techniques (and who had had some of them used against him in Vietnam) won the nomination. The two leading Democratic candidates have vowed to end abusive interrogation upon coming to office. And the pseudo-legal arguments of former Bush officials such as John Yoo were both repudiated by the administration itself and subjected to withering critiques in the legal community.

We learned, in other words, that America had crossed the Geneva boundaries in the years after 9/11. We also learned that America has the resources to correct itself in the end.

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Andrew Sullivan, one of the world's most widely read bloggers, is a former Atlantic senior editor, a political commentator, and the author of five books. More

Andrew Sullivan was born in August 1963 in a small town in southern England. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a first in modern history and modern languages. He was also president of the Oxford Union in his second year at college and spent his summer vacations as an actor in the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain.

 

In 1984, he won a Harkness Fellowship to Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In his summers, he interned as an editorial writer at The Daily Telegraph in London, and at the Centre For Policy Studies, Margaret Thatcher's informal think tank, where he wrote a policy paper on the environment, called "Greening The Tories." At Harvard, he was best known for acting, appearing as the title character in Hamlet, Alan in Peter Shaffer's Equus, and Mozart in Shaffer's Amadeus.

In the summer of 1986, after completing his master's degree in public administration, Andrew interned at The New Republic and wrote his first article for the magazine on the cult of bodybuilding. He then returned to Harvard to start a Ph.D. in political science. His doctoral thesis, "Intimations Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott," won the government department prize. In 1990, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he freelanced for The Telegraph and started a monthly column for Esquire. He was soon back at The New Republic as deputy editor under Hendrik Hertzberg, and in June of 1991, at the age of 27, was appointed acting editor. In October, he took over as editor, and presided over 250 issues of The New Republic. In those years, The New Republic's circulation grew to well over 100,000 and its advertising revenues grew by 76 percent. The magazine also won three National Magazine Awards for General Excellence, Reporting, and Public Interest. The first two awards overlapped with Rick Hertzberg's tenure at the magazine. In 1996, his final year at the magazine, Sullivan was named Editor of the Year by Adweek.

In the early 1990s, Sullivan became known for being openly homosexual, and for championing such issues as gays in the military and same-sex marriage. His 1995 book, Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, became one of the best-selling books on gay rights and was translated into five languages. He followed it with a reader, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, and testified before Congress on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. His 1998 book, Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival, was a synthesis of three essays on the plague of AIDS, homosexuality and psycho-therapy, and the virtue of friendship. Sullivan tested positive for HIV in 1993 and remains in good health.

In the late 1990s, Sullivan worked as a contributing writer and columnist for The New York Times Magazine, a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, and a weekly columnist for The Sunday Times of London. His 2000 New York Times Magazine cover story on testosterone, "Why Men Are Different," provoked a flurry of controversy, as well as a cover-story in Time and a documentary on the Discovery channel. Since 2002, Sullivan has been a columnist for Time Magazine and a regular guest on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher and NBC's Chris Matthews Show.

In the summer of 2000, Sullivan became one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with blogging and soon developed a large online readership with andrewsullivan.com's Daily Dish. Andrew blogged independently and for Time.com and, in February 2007, moved his blog to TheAtlantic.com (archives here), where he was a senior editor for the magazine. In April 2010, Andrew moved to TheDailyBeast.com.
 

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