The Banality of Evil

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Andrew Sullivan cites conservative pundit/intellectual Charles Krauthammer’s evolving opinion of our treatment of detainees:

“I don’t see it as a dark chapter in our history at all,” – Charles Krauthammer, yesterday.

“The pictures are shocking and the practices appalling,” – Charles Krauthammer, on Abu Ghraib, May 14, 2004.

In the first quote, Krauthammer is referring to the torture practices laid out in the memos released yesterday but Eric Holder’s DOJ. In the second, he is referring to Abu Ghraib. I agree with Andrew that if you are shocked and appalled by one, you should be shocked and appalled by both — as Andrew says, the unauthorized actions at Abu Graib were just “garbled copies” of the authorized actions taking place in black sites around the world. Andrew tries to dissect why Krauthammer’s feelings have evolved — he does some good, hard thinking on the subject. I’ll add another possible explanation: time. We’ve grown familiar with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Bush Administration. We didn’t know CIA officers were trapping detainees in coffin-like boxes with scary insects, but we did know they were using nudity, prolonged standing, dousing in water, stress positions, waterboarding, etc. I would argue that every person that wants to support and even return to Bush-era war on terror practices has found some way to rationalize all this horrible stuff to themselves, so that if they were shocked by it in 2004, they are not so shocked now.

And, frankly, I don’t think anyone will be shocked in 20 years. We are awfully good at forgetting.

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