We tortured some folks

Oh, did we?

What we have done, perhaps, is just witnessed the apotheosis of Barack Obama’s shabby faux-populist style of extemporaneous rhetoric. His particular style of demagoguery differs in form from that of either President Bush, but not so much in function. All three of them, constituting three of the four last US presidents, have deliberately debased their own use of the English language for political purposes falling under the umbrella of relatability, the idea being to dupe workaday Americans into thinking that the sitting president is one of us merely because he often uses vulgar, unrefined diction. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton didn’t really do this, but they were both more gifted demagogues than W and much more gifted demagogues than Poppy Bush or Obama. And so it comes to pass that we have spent over thirty years under the presidencies of demagogic charlatans, if not longer.

And it’s by design that we don’t know exactly who we are, that is, who all is among us rather and not among an outside them. These same five presidents have included four Ivy Leaguers, one of them a Rhodes Scholar and two of them scions of Yankee old money, and a fifth who went to an obscure, poorly regarded Midwestern college but quickly rose through the ranks in Hollywood, becoming a well-known movie star and important leader in the Screen Actors Guild long before entering politics. Even Barack Obama, ostensibly the one who started his career with the weakest professional connections, was raised by a mother who worked for the Ford Foundation. After completing law school, he was quick to very deliberately insinuate himself into Chicago machine politics, despite having no prior connections to the city, because he had been told that it was the most promising place in the country for a black politician.

In what ways are these men like us? For that matter, in what ways should expect any politicians to be like us? In small towns it is commonly understood that the local political class is drawn from the local business and professional classes. Voters in such communities would probably be confused, if not put off, to see the town pharmacist or the town probate lawyer aggressively ape the speech and mannerisms of the most vulgar pump jockeys at the local Arco station. The reason is probably that politics in these communities is practiced face to face, not on television.

We tortured some folks.

Imagine a police chief using such Casual Friday language at a press conference about the arrest of a municipal code enforcement officer on charges of serial murder. “Rader tortured some folks and then killed ’em dead.” It would be considered scandalously flippant. But Barack Obama is scandalously flippant. He isn’t the only recent president who has profaned his office, but profane it he has. This comment about our torture of some folks is just the latest example. This is the same president who spent an official White House reception making scrunchy faces on camera with McKayla Maroney, and the same one who presided over the drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen who was not even under indictment, let alone a death sentence, in another country’s sovereign territory.

We tortured some folks.

If we, all of us, were responsible for it, I’d like to add some charges to the indictment. We, in the avatar of Dennis Lynn Rader and the metaavatar of Bill Thomas Killman, bound, tortured, and killed a number of people around Wichita. We, in the avatar of officer and gentleman Nidal Hasan, gun-fragged a dozen people down at Fort Hood. We, in the avatar of Jon Burge, tortured false confessions out of various suspects, all of them without the full knowledge of the State’s Attorney’s office, let alone the knowledge of our non-Burge selves. We, in the avatar of God and the suspects alone knows who, killed Jimmy Hoffa. (We do, however, continue to look for Jimmy. To what end? We’re just keeping the dream alive.) We, in the avatar of Joseph Pantaleo, choked Eric Garner to death for selling black market cigarettes.

Of course we did none of this as a collective. And that’s exactly what we didn’t do in the CIA’s black sites. It’s well known that the torture campaigns at these sites were conducted by small, discrete teams of CIA employees acting in violation of US and international law. These violent crimes just haven’t yet been prosecuted or properly litigated. These criminals are no more us than Robert Hanssen was us when he sold classified information to the KGB. This is especially true in light of the discovery that the CIA hacked Senate computers and then tried to frame Senate staffers for misusing classified documents, and in light of the NSA’s J. Edgar Hoover-style blackmail dossiers on our elected officials. Our clandestine services are behaving like the ‘Ndraghetta, but they aren’t us.

We should prosecute some folks.

We should impeach some folks.


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