This odd rationale has been floating around lately when it comes to torture prosecution discussions. Here’s Jacob Weisburg:
What we need now is a public airing through congressional hearings and perhaps a high-level commission—Jack Goldsmith and Philip Zelikow, brave opponents of torture and legal casuistry inside the Bush administration, would be excellent choices for it. But pursuing criminal charges would be too hard legally and politically and too easy morally. Prosecuting Bush and his men won't absolve the rest of us for what we let them do.
First off, as I’ve often thought when hearing this sort of argument, what do you mean “we”, white man? More to the point there was certainly damage done to America’s reputation, but more to the point there are victims here, admittedly many of them nasty people. Beyond that, a violation of a treaty is a betrayal of all the abiding signatories. Weisburg and the like seem to be treating torture as the equivalent of neglecting our national gravesites or something else just about us.
If we are collective responsible, than what is the collective price we pay? I’m not a believer in collective punishment, but there are certainly people radicalized by torture that are. The answer American collective punishment advocates seem to argue for is basically that we should uncover the truth and feel guilty. In war time we’ve tended to take a far harsher line but in power politic conflict we’ve tend to give defeated adversaries a pass. I think not gloating or going for blood is often a wise move, but that’s in the context of a country that’s already paying a tough price.
Instead, advocates for the collective responsibility approach act as both sinner and forgiver. They dilute the guilt until it vanishes entirely and then order us to go and sin no more. The investigation will provide a hand basin for a collective washing our hands of this unpleasantness.
Of course, the torture advocates are still arguing torture, so that sort of throws a crimp in the plan. But what are the odds that in a two party system, the other party will win again?