Ronald Reagan: vengeful, score-settling, Hard Left ideologue

The principles that the right-wing President advocated and bound the U.S. to abide by are today deemed hallmarks of leftist extremism.

Published May 1, 2009 11:39AM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

This is a perfect illustration of how severely our political spectrum has shifted in the last two decades and how depraved and extremist our political and media classes have become:

Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, today:  "When to Torture":

Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. . . . The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. . . .

Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them Centcom commander. Private principles are fine, but you don't entrust such a person with the military decisions upon which hinges the safety of the nation. It is similarly imprudent to have a person who would abjure torture in all circumstances making national security decisions upon which depends the protection of 300 million countrymen.

Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988, transmitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention.  It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, April 29, 2009:

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified.

The views that Ronald Reagan not only advocated, but signed a treaty compelling the U.S. to adhere to, are ones that are now -- in the view of our dominant media narrative -- the hallmarks of The Hard Left:  torture is never justified; there are "no exceptional circumstances" justifying it; it must be declared to be a serious criminal offense ; and -- most of all -- the U.S., as Ronald Regan put it, "is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."  Reagan's explicit view that the concept of "universal jurisdiction" permits signatory nations (such as Spain) to prosecute torturers from other countries (such as the U.S.) is now considered so fringe that it's almost impossible to find someone in mainstream American debates willing to advocate it.

If you now believe about torture and prosecutions exactly what Ronald Reagan advocated in 1988 -- or what Israel today advocates -- then, according to our establishment narrative, you are, by definition, a member of the Hard Left.  And nobody who believes what Reagan advocated could possibly, in Krauthammer's words today, be entrusted with national security decisions.  We've gone from Reagan's "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "Each State Party is required [] to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory" to the moral depravity of the Charles Krauthammers' explicit endorsement of torture and the virtually unanimous view of political and media elites that advocating criminal prosecutions for those who torture is confined to the vengeful, leftist masses.

It's certainly true, of course, that Ronald Reagan was very pre-9/11, but the concept of uniquely scary Islamic Terrorists was hardly unknown.  Our client-tyrant in Iran was overthrown by them in 1979; we funded and supported them in Afghanistan in the early 1980s; U.S. Marines occupying Lebanon were attacked by them in 1982; Jewish community centers in Argentina were exploded by them in 1984; and Reagan himself invoked their Grave Threat in order to justify the American bombing of Libya in 1986 and the killing of the adopted infant daughter of its leader.  We were bombing, occupying, interfering in and trying to control Muslim countries way back then, too.  Yet even with all those Islamic Terrorists running around, Reagan insisted that torture could never be justified under any circumstances and that those who do it must be criminally prosecuted.

It's certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We're now a country where the leading "intellectuals" of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, "prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." 

It's literally true that if you say today verbatim what Ronald Reagan said in 1988 about torture and the need to prosecute those who do it, then you are immediately and by definition a rabid score-settler from the Hard Left who is unfit to be trusted with national security decisions.  Conversely, the views that Reagan vehemently rejected by words and by treaty -- that torture can be justified in some circumstances; that torturers should be shielded from prosecution; that other countries have no right to prosecute the torturers from other countries under "universal jurisdiction" -- are now not merely acceptable, but are required views in order to be not only a conservative, but to be a centrist.  That's how severely the political spectrum and our elite consensus on these questions have shifted -- descended -- even from the time of the right-wing Reagan era when American exceptionalism and military aggression thrived.  

* * * * *

Why do they hate us?  For Our Freedoms:


UPDATE:  As for Krauthammer's pro-torture justifications, Dan Froomkin says most of what needs to be said about those.


UPDATE II:  On an unrelated topic:  I have numerous emails asking me to comment on the decision of the Obama DOJ to drop its prosecution of two former AIPAC officials for alleged violations of the Espionage Act.  I have no time to write about this today, but despite being as vigorous a critic of AIPAC as can be, I absolutely believe the Obama DOJ did the right thing.  From the start, the Bush DOJ's prosecution of these non-government-employees (as opposed to its prosecution of DOD employee Larry Franklin) was abusive, dangerous and wrong -- clearly an attempt by the Bush administration to criminalize the core activity of investigative reporting.   I wrote about my reasons for finding that prosecution so pernicious back in 2006 (here), and I largely agree with what AIPAC critic Spencer Ackerman wrote today about this matter (here).  No matter how harmful one might believe AIPAC to be, the end of this prosecution is something everyone who cares about press freedoms and even free speech should cheer.

By Glenn Greenwald

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