A Transformative Issue

The hero in this particular narrative is not some wild-eyed leftist. He is the son of immigrants, whose family was acquainted with the terrors of Nazism, and the police states of the Soviet Union and Castro's Cuba. He knows what freedom is; and he knows what it means when the government decides to deploy cruelty against defenseless human beings as an instrument of policy. Mora, who backed the war on terror, including the war in Iraq, merely knew what tyranny means; and he saw it being drafted in memos for the president of the United States. "My mother would have killed me if I hadn’t spoken up," he tells Mayer. "No Hungarian after Communism, or Cuban after Castro, is not aware that human rights are incompatible with cruelty." But Bush and Cheney and Addington and Rumsfeld - who scribbled a joke on one memo detailing torture - seemed utterly unaware of this basic truth. Mora saw that this president, in defending America, had actually attacked America. And he had no patience for the attempt to split hairs between "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners and the t-word:

"To my mind, there's no moral or practical distinction. If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America — even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It's a transformative issue."

Of course, it's a transformative issue. And it has transformed America, and its meaning around the world - for ever. No one in future generations will be able to defend America's honor, without having this thrown back in their faces. We can draw some comfort that we are told that the worst is over. But we know that the people who legalized, defended and endorsed torture are still in power; we know that they do not consider themselves bound by the law; and we know that most of those who have opposed them are now in the private sector. The fact that Bush, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Sanchez, Gonzales, and Miller may have committed war crimes with good motives (the defense of the United States) does not mean they haven't committed them.