A little more than a week ago, during a news conference on Friday, August 1st, Obama said We tortured some folks, and went on to say It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. Either statement seems a little strange, together, they seem even more strange. Calling the US Army Military Police and CIA waterboarding, sodomizing, sleep depriving, freezing, and even beating, to the point of killing, various helpless people in their custody, tortured some folks, seems to be a bit aw shucksy.
When I first saw the pictures of our troops torturing terrorist at Abu Ghraib prison, I was shocked and embarrassed. To me, it never seemed likely that it was just a couple of stupid, low-level G.I.s. Still, I had no idea how high up the chain of command, the crime of torture would go. And murder, as far as that goes.
It wasn’t until a week later, and – I think partially in response to what Obama said – that Dean Baquet, The Executive Editor of The New York Times, wrote Over the past few months, reporters and editors of The Times have debated a subject that has come up regularly ever since the world learned of the C.I.A.’s brutal questioning of terrorism suspects: whether to call the practices torture….Given those changes, reporters urged that The Times recalibrate its language. I agreed. So from now on, The Times will use the word “torture” to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information. The gist of the article – editorial? – between the opening quote and the ending quote, where the four dots are above, is that, heretofore there was not enough detail to know if it was torture. Of course there was enough detail, there just hadn’t been enough time after the torture.
Shortly after Mercedes’ 100th anniversary, Daimler-Benz opened its private records that showed they were a major player in the Nazi regime. It started in 1931 when Mercedes advertised in Volkischer Beobachter, the Nazi newspaper known for its anti-Semitic tirades and culminated – I guess you could say – with Mercedes using slave labor during World War II. BMW has now admitted that they used about 20,000 slaves during the war. Just recently, Audi has gone publicwith its culpability during the nazi era. In Audi’s – then called Auto Union but with the same four ring logo – case, Dr. Richard Bruhn, ran the company before, during, and after the war. Under his tenure Audi used about 20,000 slaves and about 4,500 disabled workers were sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp where they were killed. There is talk that his picture may come off the wall.
I don’t know anybody who thinks what Mercedes, BMW, and Audi did was acceptable human behavior and it took them a long time to face that. Obama doesn’t want us to be too sanctimonious in the period of our national panic after 911. Organizations, like people, don’t like to admit to being criminals. Everybody wants there to be a justifying reason that makes it OK to torture, kill, or roundup and put people in Concentration Camps, this one Special Time. I think it is still too soon for us to admit that just because we were panicking, it isn’t OK to torture. Or kill people with drones.