Whence cometh the fury of these people? I think it arises less from revulsion at interrogation techniques -- who thinks that captured al-Qaida leaders should be treated politely and will then tell the full truth? -- than it does from a desire to see George W. Bush and Bush administration officials publicly humiliated and repudiated. Just as Madame Defarge relished watching the condemned walk from the tumbrel to the guillotine, our contemporary Defarges want to see the people they hate condemned and destroyed.
It doesn't seem to matter to our Madame Defarges that it's not clear that Bush officials violated any criminal law. One of the core principles of our law is that criminal statutes must be construed strictly against the government. If the government wants to deprive someone of his liberty for doing something, it should be very specific about what that something is. This distinguishes our system from authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that demand, like Alice's Red Queen, "verdict first, trial later."
It also doesn't occur to the Madame Defarges of our times that revolutions like hers tend to devour their own. Robespierre followed Marie Antoinette to the guillotine not so many months later. Today we see Pelosi trying to explain how she was present at confidential briefings where the enhanced interrogation methods were described and did nothing to stop them from being applied.
If there is going to be a "truth commission" -- a title that is redolent of Stalinist purges -- shouldn't she be one of the first to testify? As for Barack Obama, asked in a September 2007 if we should "beat out of" an al-Qaida higher-up details of an impending attack, he said "there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals, an emergency situation, and I will make that judgment at that time." So "torture" just might be OK under the right circumstances.
In the meantime, Obama's appeasement of the Madame Defarges carries a political price. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 58 percent of Americans believe his release of the CIA memos endangers national security. Show trials of Bush administration officials could raise that number. Appeasing the Madame Defarges may cost more than it is worth.
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