Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one’s sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin’s notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria’s predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.
It goes on, including tales of Bukovsky’s own experiences as a victim of Soviet torture and deserves to be read in its entirety. But this here is essentially the key point at hand. While you can obviously imagine or gerrymander or stipulate a situation in which torture might yield useful information, in practice the systematic authorization of torture creates an army of butchers, not a crack investigative team. Bush, Cheney, and those around them remind me of Nietzsche’s line about staring too long into the abyss. They’ve become transfixed, hypnotized almost, by the evils they believe themselves to be fighting. Obsessed to the point where they’ve clearly developed an admiration for the brutal methods, ruthless dishonesty, and utter secrecy with which the enemies of liberalism conduct themselves.
But these things they’re so eager — determined, really — to cast aside aren’t frivolous luxury to be abandonned in times of peril. They’re the very essence of what makes our system of government work. They’re what makes it worth preserving, as a matter of ethics, but also as a matter of practice vital to the preservation of our way of life. Liberal democracy isn’t a fluke occurrence that just so happens to have survived despite its drawbacks. It’s actually a superior method of organizing a state. The idea that the country is being run by people who don’t understand that is sad and frightening. The idea that the very same people claim to be embarked upon a grand mission to spread our system of government around the world is like a horrible tawdry joke, but doubly frightening in its own way.