The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing – Edmund Burke
I have just finished reading Jay Bybee’s memo to John Rizzo. Jay Bybee was the US Assistant Attorney General, John Rizzo the then acting General Counsel of the CIA, way back in 2002.
It was strange reading. Strange because much of my professional life is composed of writing similar pieces, not in the sense of condoning torture, but in the sense of looking at a piece of legislation and teasing out of it what my employer must do. It was easier for me to at least understand that this memo was prepared in a particular milieu. It was one more document that involved reviewing the statutes, gathering information, reasoning a course of action.
Indeed, I read through the descriptions of torture (your office has informed me. . . ), read through the research on torture (It appears you have conducted an extensive inquiry. . .), establishment of the pre-eminent legislation (Section 2340A makes it a criminal offense . . . ), and then interpretation of the legislation.
It is 18 pages of stuff, and I must confess, while the descriptions of the 10 types of torture left me uneasy, so too did the descriptions of the suspects activities. It is foolishness to simply assume that Mr. Zubaydah, the third or forth in control of a-Qaeda, was going to furnish information on terrorist threats when approached with a nice smile and pretty please.
And yet. Much has been written about means and ends, and I’m not going to re-iterate it. Other’s far wiser and more eloquent have written about the dangerous ground we stand on when we say that our ends justify our means. There be dragons.
No, perhaps if the pages were filled with unease, it was the last line that left me cold: Please let me know if we can be of further assistance.
Now, I suppose that this is the standard ending of letters. Certainly, I write many a memo, e-mail, letter with the same line. But after reading 18 pages of prose, that stretched the definitions of torture and prolonged mental harm and the phrase due diligence to almost the breaking point, I was left cold.
It was a dirty exercise to research. It was wallowing in filth and depravity to review the legislation and find loop holes. It was torturous wording to find excuses. And all of that was bad enough. It was great human tragedy that this memo was all in a day’s work for someone. It was contemptible that the Attorney General became the lap dog of the CIA, and presented no review of perceptions or morality or literature, that they bent the existing legislation to the point of breaking it, all to support the need for torture. It was, and still is, reprehensible that at no point in 18 pages, someone couldn’t find a place to put a paragraph suggesting that torture puts the American government in bed with the worst of the world: names that live in infamy, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Genghis Khan. It is an abject moral failure of all of us that this report could even exist.
I posit: The only thing necessary . . . . .