Amidst all the outrage expressed after last Thursday’s new torture revelations (for those who missed it, the New York Times reported more ex post facto legalization of abhorrent practices and the continued operation of secret overseas prisons), Glenn Greenwald’s excellent essay on Salon was one of the only media responses to point out that “outrage” is hardly an acceptable emotional response to something you’ve known about for years. “None of this is new,” he writes. “And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that.” Our indignance at the front-page announcement of each new atrocity seems based less on our objection to the policies themselves than on our annoyance at being left in the dark.
If anything, our representatives have eagerly sought to legalize broad swaths of moral gray area, offering not only future endorsement but retroactive immunity to the perpetrators of crimes for which other countries enact Truth Commissions. Eager to demonstrate patriotism during wartime, we fail to notice how the doubt sown by secrecy gradually shifts our assumptions away from rational discourse. This cycle represents the Administration’s greatest psychological triumph. Each new layer of secrecy imposed on the “War on Terror” has made it easier to believe that we, the people, don’t understand what’s at stake, don’t realize how dangerous the situation is, and therefore, don’t have the expertise to devise a democratic way to deal with it. Demanding answers doesn’t just show respect for American values; it proves we respect ourselves as skeptics and patriots alike.