Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Katrina Principle goes to College 

NYRB regular Mark Danner catches Katrina Principle Fever! in his commencement address at Berkeley:

...all around us we've been hearing these last many months the sound of ice breaking, as the accumulated frozen scandals of this administration slowly crack open to reveal their queasy secrets. And yet the problem, of course, is that they are not secrets at all: One of the most painful principles of our age is that scandals are doomed to be revealed -- and to remain stinking there before us, unexcised, unpunished, unfinished.

If this Age of Rhetoric has a tragic symbol, then surely this is it: the frozen scandal, doomed to be revealed, and revealed, and revealed, in a never-ending torture familiar to the rock-bound Prometheus and his poor half-eaten liver. A full three years ago, the photographs from Abu Ghraib were broadcast by CBS on Sixty Minutes II and published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker; nearly as far back I wrote a book entitled Torture and Truth, made up largely of Bush administration documents that detailed the decision to use "extreme interrogation techniques" or -- in the First President of Rhetoric's phrase -- "an alternative set of procedures" on prisoners in the War on Terror.

He used this phrase last September in a White House speech kicking off the 2006 midterm election campaign, at a time when accusing the Democrats of evidencing a continued softness on terror -- and a lamentable unwillingness to show the needed harshness in "interrogating terrorists" -- seemed a winning electoral strategy. And indeed Democrats seemed fully to agree, for they warily elected not to filibuster the Military Commissions Act of last October, which arguably made many of these "alternative sets of procedures" explicitly legal. And Democrats did win both houses of Congress, a victory perhaps owed in part to their refusal to block Bush's interrogation law. Who can say? What we can say is that if torture today remains a "scandal," a "crisis," it is a crisis in that same peculiar way that crime or AIDS or global warming are crises: that is, they are all things we have learned to live with.


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