The more I read about torture by United States agents—CIA operatives, military special forces, hired mercenaries, and military police—the more unsettling the whole sordid situation becomes. The information now at hand is simply unassailable: the United States government consciously set out, after the attacks of 9/11, to “take off the gloves” when dealing with prisoners who might possibly have information about al Quaeda or the Taliban or anyone else in the Arab/Muslim world. Using techniques that had been around for years, some for centuries, some updated specifically for those likely to be captured in the current “war” on terror, intelligence agents determined that they could employ just about any method to extract information. They were aided and abetted and indeed prodded to do so by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and through him, by their commanders. The Secretary of Defense was in turn given the protection of the best legal “minds” in the White House and the Department of Justice, who issued a series of now-famous memos justifying virtually all means of gathering intelligence from captives, most of whom were placed in a category that voided the protections normally due them as prisoners.
All this took place in an atmosphere in which the United States President, George W. Bush, had promised, right after 9/11, to rid the world of evil—by which he meant the evil promulgated by those terrorists who had attacked the World Trade Center.
Instead, what took place was the greatest concentration of evil in the history of the American presidency. Consider who was in that White House. George W. Bush, from the moment he took office, indeed, before he even took office, demonstrated that morals simply did not apply to him. He could piously proclaim the virtues of military service, and remain AWOL from even the minimal duty he was obligated to perform in the Air National Guard. He could inveigh against the so-called Axis of Evil, and at the same time authorize to his staff virtually any measures in pursuing revenge: “any barriers in your way, they are gone.” He could preach about the bestial nature of the terrorists who had attacked our “civilized” values, and at the same time rebuff anyone—this time the Secretary of Defense, no nervous Nellie himself—who protested that retaliatory action could encounter certain legal obstacles:
“I don’t care what the international lawyers say,” brayed the President. “We are going to kick some ass.”
It was this climate created by the President, that led directly to the horrors at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo in Cuba.
But the president was not alone. Smirking quietly but malevolently behind him and beside him always was his president of vice, Richard Cheney. Cheney is that lovely man who once gave the finger in the Senate to a democrat who thwarted him, Senator Patrick Leahy, mouthing presidentially: “Go fuck yourself.” He’s that sporting duck hunter who famously shot his best friend in the face. He’s that zealot who pushed the concept of the unitary presidency—the notion that no law can constrain a president in time of war—to the point that, with the war on terror scheduled to last indefinitely, absolute presidential power becomes indefinite as well. Cheney is also the man in whose office the lawyer David Addington reigns—the one browbeating other white house lawyers to immunize the president and all his men from their crimes.
Then, of course, there were the other ethically-challenged legal eagles: Alberto Gonzalez, who had to resign from his Attorney General post in shame; John Yoo, who coined the term “quaint” to describe the Geneva Conventions, thus making their protections moot; and a host of others dedicated to removing all constraints on the torture of captives so long as the Decider in Chief gave torture his imprimatur. And he did. And they did. And the evil festered and suppurated and spread around the globe. And the White House, and all it touched, became a black house of horrors.
How to explain this? How to explain such a concentration of evil in one place at one time? No one really knows. Perhaps one can only look at it poetically: those who preach the gospel of absolute good and absolute evil, as George Bush has since taking office, as the conservatives have since forever—it is their prime article of faith—must ultimately practice what they preach. They must finally be caught up in the dualism to which they subscribe. For it is in the nature of dualism to be convertible: white easily shades into black, hot inevitably becomes cold, good cannot help but be infected by, and in the end defined by evil.
So it is in the Bush White House. Paint it and sanitize it and bleach it as they will, they can never hide what they have become and what it has become: a white house turned black by, inhabited by demons.