Republicans and conservative pundits who blasted the release of the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture gulag brought shame upon themselves and their country. They were really saying that they believe in torture and/or believe in keeping important information from the American people, both extremely un-American traits. Yet I know these men and women to be patriots.
Some who opposed release of the report said that it would embarrass or endanger the country. One female Fox News performer even averred that the President released the report to embarrass us on purpose because he hates this country which elected him president twice. It is their viewpoint that is embarrassing. First of all, endangerment is a joke—homegrown and foreign terrorists of all religions have enough gripes against the United States already, plus they’ve known about the tortures for years.
Why can’t these people just admit that the United States made a mistake? As a country dedicated to freedom, justice and truth, we have a moral—and probably a legal—obligation to admit when we have collectively made a mistake. We gain stature in the world by admitting our mistakes and improving our behavior. Now that President Obama has ended our torture program and the Senate has released its report, all that’s missing is to punish the creators of the torture gulag, who broke numerous laws and sullied our country’s reputation. Obama doesn’t want that to happen, but I wouldn’t do much traveling abroad if I were Bush II, Cheney, Tenet, Yoo, Addington, Bybee or Rumsfeld, since the International Criminal Court will be able to prosecute them.
Particularly shameful are those who still insist that torture works, such as psychologist James Mitchell, who was paid millions to develop CIA torture techniques. These unusually cruel individuals seem to forget that it doesn’t matter whether or not torture works—it’s barbaric, immoral and illegal. I wonder why the news media still pays attention to the discredited views of those, like Dick Cheney and John Yoo, who in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still believe torture is both legal and effective.
But Republicans and conservatives were not the only ones who embarrassed themselves this week by supporting acts such as torture and cover-ups that are obnoxiously un-American and against our shared notions of freedom and civil liberties. During the same timeframe, the national news media, many of the New York elite and many officials in Washington, D.C. shared in the humiliating display of welcoming and tending to the ego needs of a pair of mediocre nobodies whose only job in life is to represent the last vestiges of the pernicious idea that certain people are inherently better than others. I’m talking about the reception that the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William received during their visit to New York City this week. They attended a basketball game where they met Jay Z, Beyoncé and LeBron James. They rendezvoused with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton elsewhere, and the Prince skedaddled to Washington and back for a meeting with the Prez.
What is wrong with these people? Haven’t they read any history? Don’t they know we fought a war to free ourselves of royalty? Don’t they know how many people died at the hands of soldiers in wars fought for the pleasure or aggrandizement of royalty? How many people starved because of confiscatory taxes to support kings, queens, princes and the whole rot of them in a luxurious lifestyle?
LeBron is the best basketball player and Hillary Clinton is one of the three or four best-known and respected women in the world. They are busy people. Why do they take the time to meet with a couple who have done absolutely nothing?
Many readers are probably shocked that I’m comparing the U.S. torture program to receiving a British prince and his lady. But think of it this way: We tortured fewer than 200 people over a period of less than 10 years. British royalty was responsible for millions of deaths—sometimes by torture, but also by slavery, warfare, induced famine and confiscatory policies—over about 700 years. Consider, too, that Bush II henchmen authorized torture in defense of our representational democracy; the goal of virtually all the torture and wars inflicted by kings and queens was to enlarge their own wealth.
Bush II and Dick Cheney symbolize the torture that took place on their watch. And until he resigns his position as prince, forswears becoming king one day and gets off the public dole, Prince William remains a symbol of all the evil the British kings and queens committed. He also embodies the evil idea that some people are inherently better than others and deserve more than others by divine right.
If Hillary, Chelsea, Jay Z, LeBron and everyone else who went out of their way to show the royal couple a good time wanted to take a stand for democracy and freedom, they would have politely had something else to do when the Duchess and Prince came to town. The news media could have ignored their trip completely, just as they usually ignore the comings and goings of celebrities in the fields of science, engineering, poetry and history. In short, the American establishment should have shunned the royal couple, while making it clear that we will welcome with open arms any legitimate representative of the British government.
Considering how I feel about royalty, I couldn’t help but get angry viewing a photo in the New York Times this week that made a mockery of the history of freedom. Holding a bouquet of flowers, the Duchess greeted children and parents—mostly black—at a Harlem children’s center. Everyone is smiling and two of the children look as if they are in complete awe of the Duchess.
What we see is a joyous encounter between the descendants of people who were forced as slaves to come to the United States and endured generations of oppression and discrimination with someone who married into a family that received a share of the profit generated by selling slaves to its territories and of all the wealth created by exploiting slaves, at least until the American slave owners joined the American rebellion so they could keep the profits all for themselves.
And what is in store for the Duchess and the children and parents she met after their brief afternoon soiree? The parents will go to minimum and low-wage jobs and struggle to make ends meet for their families on less purchasing power than they had 10 years ago. The children will go back to impoverished lives without the extra lessons, tutoring, expensive camps, college consultants and other educational advantages enjoyed by the children of the upper middle class and wealthy. Studies indicate that very few will escape poverty or near poverty, far fewer than used to rise before we became a nation of rich and poor. And the Duchess will continue to live a dream life, a perpetual vacation of meeting other celebrities, smiling at bigwigs at parties, enjoying the finest of foods, wines, clothes and jewelry, getting prime seats at every game and opera, officiating at events, hiding from paparazzi on exotic and luxurious vacations and dabbling at charitable causes. All the while, she will represent the idea of royalty, that some people deserve better lives, not because they worked hard or have some special talent, but because of an accident of birth.
Imagine if instead of being born the child of the next-in-line to the British throne, Prince William were born in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. He shows all signs of being a good soldier who follows directions. That means living in the Middle East, he might have ended up with a tenuous connection to terrorists. The American army might have swept him up in a police action and deposited him at an undisclosed CIA location. Instead of swapping yarns with President Obama this week, he might be a pathetically shell-shocked survivor of water-boarding, shock treatments and rectal hydration.
Yes, we in the United States have a lot to be ashamed about this week.