In a recent column, (syndicated by the New York Times,) the National Public Radio mainstay (and author, storyteller, humorist, and musician,) allowed that “widespread waterboarding and other acts of torture carried out in secret CIA prisons are no small matter.” He added, “The free play of sadism on the helpless in the name of national service is not to be ignored.” He called for “a fair and thorough congressional investigation.” He said we should “subpoena witnesses and lay the whole wretched business out on the public record. Look into the heart of darkness and meditate on it.”
But when it comes to “criminal prosecution,” and “holding the Bush administration responsible for torture,” the Man from Lake Wobegon says we be going too far, that something is rotten in America: “I smell the sour righteousness of the victorious lording it over the vanquished.”
That’s right: the self-described “old museum-quality northern liberal” says that holding high officials responsible for the murderous torture they carried out in his — and our –name would only yield “high political drama that would feed the media goat” and “sap the body politic.” As a result, Keillor claims, “The health-care system would go unfixed, schools would crumble, basic public services would deteriorate, all so that the left could have at the right.” (Wasn’t it the right that let the health-care system go unfixed, schools crumble, and basic public services deteriorate in the first place? Oh, never mind…)
And instead of prosecution, Keillor’s solution is that old bromide: “Let’s move on.”
After all, he says, there were extenuating circumstances that turned us into torturers:
So if those rough and ready torturer-men shouldn’t be blamed, whom then to hold accountable? That’s simple — the rest of us!
“I think the American electorate knew who they re-elected in 2004,” Keillor helpfully points out. “ Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney did not run on a human-rights platform, they ran as rough men who would guard our sleep. So go talk to the voters of Ohio about war crimes.”
Mistaking retribution for prosecution, Keillor says what is needed “is not punishment, but truth,” since “retribution makes poor politics.” But so too does historical amnesia, ignoring reality, normalizing the unspeakable – and “moving on” before ever determining the truth underlying what it is we’re supposedly moving on from.
It’s true that what we need now “is not punishment, but truth.” It’s also true, as Keillor wrote, that “The guy they really want to put on trial is the old brush-cutter of Crawford, or else the old grouse hunter of Wyoming. They’re the guys who signed off on those memos authorizing torture. The buck stopped at their desks.”
That’s where the prosecution should stop as well – even if it means we’ll have to wait a little longer for the maglev and decent train service to the Midwest!