Saturday, September 16, 2006

Torture Nation - Billmon Explains

Billmon cuts to the chase and explains why the White House is so frantic to make it legal for the US to torture people:

I caught Commander Codpiece on the tube today, explaining to the assembled White House press zombies why the Geneva Convention's Common Article 3 is "vague" and "open to interpretation." By which he meant: "It lets us waterboard anybody we like."

The fact that we have over 50 years of law and precedent based on Article 3, that the U.S. military has issued (and now re-issued) an entire field manual interpreting it, that the U.S. Code contains a specific statute to enforce it -- these apparently haven't resolved those pesky ambiguities that have created so many PR problems for the Children of Light in their eternal war against the Children of Darkness.

But, as Marty Lederman asks over at Balkinization, if Article 3 is so "vague," and our organs of state security never use torture (as President Cheney and his underlings tell us repeatedly) then why are the administration's mouthpieces fighting so hard to get Congress to bar the courts from reviewing methods such as hypothermia, near drowning, standing in place with hands shackled over head for 40 hours or more, etc.? And why are the Rovian clone clowns on Capitol Hill trying to amend the War Crimes Act? And why are CIA operatives suddenly taking out "torture insurance" (including the accidental death or dismemberment riders)?

The answers are pretty obvious: They're all exposed. They're great big flabby asses are hanging out in the legal breeze, and they know it. They actually scared it could come to this.

We are, in a sense, at the moment of truth. The sadistic and/or bizarre acts committed in Guatanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA's secret prisons can be written off as the crimes of a few bad apples with names like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld -- or, more charitably, as the consequences of a string of bad and brutal decisions made under emergency conditions by men who were terrified by all the things they didn't know about Al Qaeda. Either way, they were not acts of national policy, endorsed and approved by Congress after open, public debate. But, thanks to the Hamdan decision, the question is now formally on the table:

Does Congress really want to make the United States the first nation on earth to specifically provide domestic legal sanction for what would properly and universally be seen as a transparent breach of the minimum, baseline standards for civilized treatment of prisoners established by Common Article 3 -- thereby dealing a grevious blow to the prospect of international adherence to the Geneva Conventions in the future?

The answer, at the moment, appears to be yes, even as Senators Warner, McCain and Graham (i.e. the Senate GOP "conscience caucus") try to paint a figleaf over the nasty truth:

The so-called "final" version of the Warner-Graham bill, now dubbed the Warner-McCain-Graham bill on military commissions . . . is still a very bad bill, eliminating judicial review and habeas corpus, and limiting criminal enforcement of Geneva Common Article 3 under the War Crimes Act (apparently Geneva [common article] 3 is still law, but only "grave violations" of Geneva are criminally enforceable).

And this is the bill the Cheneyites have threatened to veto -- putting torture on the same exalted plain as banning stem cell research.

They know. They know what they have done goes far beyond the usual practice of allowing others to do dirty work on our behalf. They know that they are in jeopardy and they are trying, like Pinochet, to make the entire nation explicitly complicit in their crimes. That the US is implicitly complicit was proved when the nation knew about Abu Ghraib and reelected these bastards in 2004.

THINK, people. When one kind of inhumanity is codified and sanctioned, it lowers the barriers to other, even more horrific practices. Once, the US wrote slavery, consigning a class of human beings to being chattel property, into our foundational law, and we are still suffering from that original sin today. Allowing people to be owned meant allowing people to be raped, tortured, mutilated, beaten, in short, treated like dolls in the possession of petulant children, subject to all the brutality and callousness children are capable of inflicting.

The Bush administration is more like Al-Qaeda than not. A charismatic (well, to his followers) leader claiming divine authority to commit atrocities, deliberately perverting the meaning of words, law and tradition to justify his murderous rage against the world and those who oppose him. Pope Ratzo's stupid comments notwithstanding, Islam is no more (or less) violent a creed than any other organized religion. Those who wish to practice it with peace and diginity will find the resources within it to do so, just as they would regardless of their particular faith. The core of every worthy faith is a recognition of and dedication to the divine within every being, and a commitment to treat every being one encounters as the instantiation of the divine - the cosmos in a finite body.

Back to the matter at hand. As I have noted in earlier posts, what we are looking at is more of the Bush/Cheney drive to break down all boundaries and barriers to the perfect possession of their will, to stand astride the world unimpeded. It is not even so much that they fear punishment (the US doesn't have the fucking balls to actually try a President for real crimes) as much as their outrage that any restraint has been placed on their desires. But this is not, in the end, what is at stake with these debates. Billmon explains far better than I ever could:
What this amounts to (and what Powell was really complaining about) is the final decommissioning of the myth of American exceptionalism -- once one of the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Without it, we're just another paranoid empire obsessed with our own security and willing to tell any lie or repudiate any self-proclaimed principle if we think it will make us even slightly safer.
Myths are useful, even necessary, things. They can explain and compel where strict logic won't find a hearing. They can inspire people to look beyond their own interests and can unify despite profound divisions. While many decry myths, particularly that of American exceptionalism, I add that we are poorer, less resilient without them (and it). If it is a spur to hubris, it is also one for compassion.

And that, perhaps more than any virtue, is absent from the policies and predilictions of the Bush regime. The demand that we all join in approval of torture says more clearly than any other act that there is no feeling-with (com-passion), only acting upon those who are Other than US.

In political science circles, the great "problem" of the 20th century to explain was how did German society turn so quickly and without compulsion into one that invaded its neighbors and institutionalized the murder its own citizens? What made an advanced, relatively wealthy, educated, literate and civilized people become a nation of butchers? I think the downfall of the United States will be a comparable problem to explain. How did we move so quickly from Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" to George Bush institutionalizing the infliction of it?


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