Digby links assertions repeated word-for-word by both President Bush and President Obama that “America does not torture” to Attorney General Holder’s curt and negative response to, as Holder put it, an “additional” question posed by Senator Rand Paul during his 13-hour 6 March filibuster of the vote to confirm John Brennan as CIA director.1 “It’s fair to say,” says Digby, possibly fairly, “that these odd phrasings and very particular choices of words are not an accident and anyone with common sense can tell instantly that by being so precise, they are hiding something.” As is typical for Administration critics among left-liberals and libertarians, she blames the executive branch, here represented by its last two chiefs and its current top lawyer, for offering lawyerly locutions on a decisively legal matter, as though the answers to the underlying questions would and must be both non-legalistically simple as well as simply favorable to the ideological liberal legal position. As an ideologue, she is unwilling to imagine that the truth might be relatively simple, but unfavorable to her ideology or at least to the notion of its universality and completeness. The spokesperson for the executive branch is at such times embodying the foundational paradoxes of the liberal democratic order, at the classic exceptional moment in which liberalism encounters the coincidence of its own real-political and conceptual limits. Digby is clearly correct that an official putting these matters in the present indicative grammatically, and in the narrowest available sense semantically, hopes to avoid unwanted practical-political complications, in short wants to say as little as possible or necessary, but she manages to note without considering that Holder, Obama, and Bush, rather than “hiding something,” were revealing everything, and precisely in a way obvious to “anyone with common sense.” “America does not torture” asserts a preferred concept of America, in the manner of a self-validating proclamation or enunciation of faith, and at the same time is a clear acknowledgment of an at best unsettled claim regarding alternative concepts and the actions undertaken under them. “No, the President will not kill Americans not engaged in combat” says, “Yes, this or any president, possibly on no one’s final judgment other than his own, may deem an individual to be engaged in combat and subject to lethal force.” (Whether his or her definition will be accepted and the order followed is another question.) Digby seems unwilling to grant that further questions are authentic, independently significant questions, even while at the same moment she is insisting that these further questions are authentic, independently and even scandalously significant questions. In this sense she represents the reason for the lawyerly locutions, and she is viewing herself in a political-ideological mirror, mystified by the mysterious figure looking back at her in a mask whose perfect transparency to common sense is the ultimate opacity for those who are exclusively committed to something else.
- The entire body of Holder’s letter – which has become a political Rorschach test on Senator Paul’s criticisms of the Obama Administration – is as follows:
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.