The impulse to take revenge can feel like a vigorous application of a sort of rough justice; I am sure some of the guys who had fight our wars adopted that understanding of what they were doing. But as numerous atrocities demonstrate -- see for example the recently disclosed kill team photos -- an opportunity to be judge and punisher of people with no discernible connection to the offense lets loose the torturers' own demonic side.
Every once in awhile, someone who knows what he is talking about just comes out and says so. Here's Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator in Iraq who found that implicit permission to brutalize suspects was getting in the way of both protecting US troops and their mission.
What soldier do while on a hostile battlefield is bad, but when a federal judge in New York City buys into the poisonous pleasure of revenge, we're pretty far gone. Karen Greenberg who directs NYU's Center on Law and Security reports that Judge Lewis A. Kaplan seemed to veer into that territory in statements at the recent sentencing of Ahmed Ghailani for participation in al-Qaida's African embassy bombings in 1998. The judge lectured from the bench:
He's not talking about some "harsh interrogation," perhaps by officials looking for a ticking time bomb here; Kaplan is endorsing our spooks forcefully punishing a putatively (but untried) guilty captive. Guess he's never noticed they do make mistakes; ask Khalid el-Masri or Maher Arar. Civilized countries use legal proceedings to determine guilt -- and 147 countries have signed on to the U.N. Convention against Torture, including the United States.
Sounds like Dick Cheney's "dark side" is alive and well in Kampala under the Obama administration,