The Absolute Value of Truth

Some people have so little credibility that even if they happen to say something correct, we are entitled to tell them to shut up. But that doesn’t mean we adopt the opposite posture just because we want to oppose them.Dick Cheney is such a person.  Hillary Clinton is correct that Dick Cheney has no business asking for “transparency” from government in relation to its release of the torture memos. Not only was his administration shrouded in secrecy and given to disclaiming any obligation of public accounting of any kind; but he has also been severe in opposing this particular set of de-classifications.

What’s “transparent” is Mr. Cheney’s deeply principled commitment to the public’s right to know. . . whatever might be exculpatory for him and his peeps. Nobody owes him that.

BUT. . . if there are documents that contextualize the shameful new facts we are learning about the use of torture as an interrogation tool, we really should have that information, irrespective of Cheney’s request.

Notice I said “contextualize” not “mitigate.” Acts that are immoral, unconstitutional, and in violation of our international agreements are still all those things even if they are spectacularly successful in meeting the objectives for which they were designed. Our constitution is replete with prohibitions against wonderfully “effective” things that government could do.

* Suppression of speech and assembly is an excellent prophylactic against insurrection.

* Broad searches and seizures powers are great for prosecuting criminals.

* A government without checks and balances has far less gridlock.

All these barriers on government likely militates against the smoothest possible functioning of government’s otherwise permitted activities.

But our founders chose to provide such inefficiency-inducing mechanisms to avoid abuse of discretion. They put a higher premium on the quality of our lives – as freely determined by us – than on the logistical efficacy of how our government functions.

Plenty of people already think that torture yields useful information. Would it surprise anyone that some memos indicating that view were written by Bush administration advisers? These are the guys who got their people to (1) find strong evidence of WMDs and an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection just in time to drag us into a war they were looking for an excuse to launch, (2) torture — excuse the pun — all reason, tradition, and canons of text-construction to somehow conclude that American laws(!) permitted them to treat detainees in ways worthy of Saddam Hussein, and (3) sign off on the legal theory that the president can unilaterally declare someone an “enemy combatant” and detain him indefinitely without review or appeal.

OF COURSE they had memos extolling the virtues of torture! Let us see the documents. All the documents – you can redact any particular info that compromises national security.

*We are going to take anything the Bush people had to say about torture with a large grain of salt. Trust us.

*We are not going to assume that the morality or legality of torture turns on its effectiveness at gaining intelligence, if that is indeed shown to be true. Trust us.

* Most importantly, even if we do decide that those memos completely exonerate the Bush Administration, that’s kind of our prerogative.  Your job is not to direct our opinions. Your job is to tell us the whole truth. Your job is to TRUST US.

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