With so much information available at a keystroke, it is now inescapable that there will be times when what is whispered in the closet will indeed be shouted from the housetops.

“Necessitas dat legem non ipsa accipit.”

Translated as “Necessity gives the law, but does not itself submit to it.”

For if a man desires what has not been forbidden, he may be afraid of prohibition; but if he may with impunity do what has been prohibited, neither fear nor shame can restrain him longer.

The second time my grandmother caught me vomiting, she didn’t wait in the hall; she sat on my bed paging through the copy of The Rise of Silas Lapham┬áthat she’d found on my nightstand. Her voice was raspy with morning as she said, “Close the door.” When I had, she said, “That was very foolish of me before, wasn’t it? Thinking you were trying to lose weight.”

I stood by the bureau and said nothing.

“We’ll go to Chicago, and we’ll have it taken case of. Next week, likely. I need to make a few calls. You can do as you see fit, but I’d advise against saying anything to your parents. I just can’t imagine what purpose it would serve.”

I felt an impulse then to express incomprehension, except that I did comprehend. At night, when I listened to “Lonesome Town,” I knew. She was right.

“Isn’t it – ” I hesitated. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“Certainly, and it happens all the time. You can’t legislate human nature.”

“You don’t think that I should have it?”

Quietly, she said, “I think it would kill you. If the circimstances were different, I would say, ‘Go live at a girls’ home in Minnesota, go to California.’ But you don’t have the strength. You’ll be strong again, but you’re not strong now.”

As she spoke, I could feel my lips curling out, the tears welling in my eyes, I whispered, “I’m sorry for disappointing you.”

“Come sit by me,” she said, and when I did, she rubbed my back, the palm of her hand sweeping over the white cotton of my nightgown. After a moment, she said, “We have to make mistakes. It’s how we learn compassion for others.” She paused. “You don’t need to tell me whose it is. That doesn’t matter.”

Cheney had been thinking about the power of cruelty since at least 1984. In March of that year, the CIA’s chief of station in Beirut, William Buckley, fell into the hands of Hezbollah. “He has kidnapped and tortured,” recalled Tom Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served then as minority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Cheney, a committee member, followed the Buckley case closely, reviewing a secretly obtained videotape of the station chief’s decline. Cheney “was quite concerned about the implications of his torture and what that could mean in terms of revelations of various intelligence operations going on in the Middle East,” Smeeton said. The presumption they shared, with foreboding, was that torture worked.

After September 11, Cheney and his allies pinoeereed a distinction that the U.S. government had not claimed before. “Torture,” narrowly defined, would remain out of bounds. But violent, cruel, or degrading methods, the terms of art in Geneva, were perfectly lawful.

Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls;
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, sword our law.