Are we living in the post-moral age?

Rafi Eitan, an Israeli elder statesman and former intelligence officer is perhaps best known for having led the Mossad operation that captured Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, and brought him back to face trial and execution in Israel in 1962.

In an interview with Haaretz this week, Eitan summed up the Zeitgeist in which we live — the Israelification of the Western world which unfolded after 9/11:

when there is a war on terror you conduct it without principles. You simply fight it.

President Bush, with his Manichaean view of the world, wanted to paint his war on terror in quasi-moral terms. President Obama has distilled it to its unprincipled essence.

The arc that has led from twisted morality to a rarefied amorality reached its completion point this week when the Obama administration made its determination that the authors of the former administration’s torture policies had done no more than make an error of judgment.

Newsweek reports:

The chief author of the Bush administration’s “torture memo” told Justice Department investigators that the president’s war-making authority was so broad that he had the constitutional power to order a village to be “massacred,” according to a report by released Friday night by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

The views of former Justice lawyer John Yoo were deemed to be so extreme and out of step with legal precedents that they prompted the Justice Department’s internal watchdog office to conclude last year that he committed “intentional professional misconduct” when he advised the CIA it could proceed with waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques against Al Qaeda suspects.

The report by OPR concludes that Yoo, now a Berkeley law professor, and his boss at the time, Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, should be referred to their state bar associations for possible disciplinary proceedings. But, as first reported by NEWSWEEK, another senior department lawyer, David Margolis, reviewed the report and last month overruled its findings on the grounds that there was no clear and “unambiguous” standard by which OPR was judging the lawyers. Instead, Margolis, who was the final decision-maker in the inquiry, found that they were guilty of only “poor judgment.”

The report, more than four years in the making, is filled with new details into how a small group of lawyers at the Justice Department, the CIA, and the White House crafted the legal arguments that gave the green light to some of the most controversial tactics in the Bush administration’s war on terror. They also describe how Bush administration officials were so worried about the prospect that CIA officers might be criminally prosecuted for torture that one senior official—Attorney General John Ashcroft—even suggested that President Bush issue “advance pardons” for those engaging in waterboarding, a proposal that he was quickly told was not possible.

At the core of the legal arguments were the views of Yoo, strongly backed by David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel, that the president’s wartime powers were essentially unlimited and included the authority to override laws passed by Congress, such as a statute banning the use of torture. Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:

“What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? … Is that a power that the president could legally—”

“Yeah,” Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. “Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief’s power over tactical decisions.”

“To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?” the OPR investigator asked again.

“Sure,” said Yoo.

Yoo is depicted as the driving force behind an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memo that narrowly defined torture and then added sections concluding that, in the end, it essentially didn’t matter what the fine print of the congressionally passed law said: The president’s authority superseded the law and CIA officers who might later be accused of torture could also argue that were acting in “self defense” in order to save American lives.

Where does Obama stand?

“I’m a strong believer that it’s important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.”

Terrorism — even if this administration thinks the term is passé — remains the only reality. Obama’s cynical mastery rests in his ability to sustain the terror zeitgeist without using the word.

Principles? They’re a distraction — a preoccupation and an indulgence for those of us little folks who do not daily wrestle with the moral ambiguity of governance.

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6 thoughts on “Are we living in the post-moral age?

  1. DE Teodoru

    From a nation in 60s where moral intellect was greatly prized we went to become a nation where ME-ist material accumulating “entrepreneurs” (hucksters/hustlers) were prized as folk heroes– hyper-revved on cocaine, of course. We then turned educational imbecility into a national trait, as a virtue of military manhood chasing down Jihadis with high-tech videogame-like drones. Black-Americans at least had the excuse that their ill-education is the consequence of discrimination; but now whites call stupid ignorance their “culture” and consider failing grades in college an attack on their “culture,” thus outrageous null-standards grade inflation in US colleges is just like “social-promotion” in elementary school (anyway, it’s easier on teachers, intellectually the bottom of the barrel). So the few engineers we’ve got dream-up robotic weapons which many dull types who enlist use to kill Muslims indiscriminately . Yoo and other “not me serve” types express their manhood, like Bush&Cheney, by advocating for the “massacre” of little people unfortunate enough to stand on oil-rich lands. What’s worse is that America was led astray by the criminal insane elements running Israel’s euphemistic “defense” forces. They convinced Americans that mass killing is “mensch-hood” not self-destruction so Vietnam’s lessons went forgotten. Israel, like most made-in-USA products looks like a lot for little cost because of all the hidden costs, mostly to Americans… hidden by a larcenous Congress, making us the benefactors of a criminally insane war mongering example. I wonder where Yoo will go when we run out of bullets or manpower…inevitable because Muslims are willing to die killing us and we are only willing to kill them to live. What will Yoo do when our frontline thug-commanders cut and run?

  2. Alexno

    It is not so much a question of morality as rather one of how our people are going to be treated, when they fall into others’ hands.

    The same with law, which Israel so egregiously ignores. Everybody imitates Israel, and all you have is mayhem. Law exists for a good reason, and that is to organise our relations with each other.

    It is true that this argument does not play so well in the US, where there is a strong and lengthy tradition of lynch-mobs, stringing up blacks (and others) from the nearest tree. But here in Europe we do value law.

  3. Mike 71

    In time of war, any subterfuge in the interest of defeating the enemy will be adopted and used. The digitization of passports is just another technical obstacle to be overcome and with today’s cyber-security weaknesses, it is certain that passports will be “cloned,” just as easily as credit cards are by those who successfully “phish” for and obtain others account numbers and passwords. As each nation creates its own database of passport holders, other citizens and legal residents, under such schemes as the U.S. “Real I.D. Act,” such databases will in time be penetrated and biometric data compromised and altered to fit those operatives for whom such passports are “cloned!” The C.I.A., Mossad, Russian F.S.B. and Chinese intelligence services already have this capability. It will come down to a race between cyber-security experts, who try to seal security breaches, and hackers who exploit security holes and create “back-doors” through “malware and other means to invade national databases!

  4. Bastiat's Ghost

    You know what the only flaw in your analysis is, DE Teodoru? The fact that you don’t realize the United States has been doing this for 234 years.

    Don’t look so shocked. What do you call the Sullivan Expedition of 1779? How about the Chickamauga wars? The Northwest Indian War? Dare I mention the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears?

    What would you call all of that: peaceful, diplomatic trade relations? The fact of the matter is we only look down upon Israel because they’re about 150 years late to the show. I don’t see us giving up any of our “settlements in occupied territories”. To this day the Natives – what are left of them anyway that disease or bullets didn’t get in the past couple of centuries – are STILL on “reservations”, aka the crappiest, most unproductive and unfarmable land we could find to herd them onto.

    Free Tibet? Free Palestine? Free Ireland? How about Free America.

    It’s like the saying on a popular T-shirt: “Who are you calling illegal, Pilgrim?”

    Of course the first excuses out of your mouth will be “but it’s too late, too much time has gone by, hardly any Natives are left, let’s forget the past”. Well then don’t expect Israel to change its attitude anytime soon, either, and don’t expect the United States’ imperialist ambitions to EVER end.

    Government (rule by violence, coercion, and gunfire) will NEVER be your friend, no matter what the blood sucking parasite whispers in your ear while it sucks your lifeforce away. Frederic Bastiat would tell you this if he were still alive. Fortunately you can read some of his best works at .

    I recommend starting with “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen”

  5. AbeBird

    DE Teodoru, Who ‘kill Muslims indiscriminately’? Did you forget that Islamic terror attacking deliberately Christian, Muslim and Jewish civilians as first priority? This is very strange that you call Israel leaders as “criminal insane elements” just because they bravely fighting back very extreme devoted Islamic terror elements.

    Alexno. What law “Israel so egregiously ignores…. imitates Israel… mayhem”? If there is a law, just act accordingly. But you can’t support the reality which it is legitimize to attack terrorize Israel for years and to repeatedly threat to ‘eliminate her from the face of the earth’ and at the same time tell Israel to sit quite. You reflect the international political arena double-face policy which is much imposed and controlled by the huge Islamic oily bloc.

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