Monday, April 27, 2009

The banality of evil, here at home

Frank Rich's column is a must-read.

And his evoking of Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" is right on.

This is not about somewhere else or someone else.

Shame, writes Dorothee Sölle --quoting Karl Marx, actually-- is a revolutionary emotion.

It's time we felt some of it.

... We’ve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: “By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.” When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to “24”; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks. ...

... as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Emphases mine, in boldface.


Chris T said...

I saw Rich's piece and thought it was great as well. Arendt is not invoked often enough, though we have some cultural touchstones that try to make the same points as she (The Sopranos, for instance).

I have Mary Midgley to thank for connecting Arendt to Christian ethics — a bit odd, maybe, since I believe she's an agnostic, but her Wickedness cites Arendt or Augustine just about every other page.

Chris T. said...

I should also mention she makes some trenchant critiques of the scientistic philosophy of folks like Dawkins and the other "new atheists" — and she was making them decades ago.

(Can you tell I'm a fan? ;-) What can I say, she taught me an awful lot through her books.)

Fran said...

Thank you for this.

I am reading some interesting stuff on some Catholic blogs. On dotCommonweal, a commenter pointed out that teaching moments were wasted as no one really paid attention to torture via the Catholic lens. Cathleen Kaveany then posted something to highlight that. (I think it was Cathleen, I don't have time to go check right now.)

On other blogs torture is said not to be an "intrinsic" evil.

What else would church teaching, fundamentally based in the middle ages say?

This will be on my heart all day and duly so.

johnieb said...

Arendt wrote her Doctorate for Heidigger on St. Augustine; I can't remember the specific topic.

Shame? Tell me about it.