The deceitful actions of this Administration have permanently harmed the fabric of America. I was hopeful after the 2006 elections that we would be bringing in a new majority committed to overturning the worst abuses and returning a basic respect for Constitutional law. News that Senate Democrats
were moving to restore some of the most basic judicial practices to the awful military tribunals compact that they barely lifted a finger to fight last year gave me some hope, although the most important part, the restoration of habeas corpus, is absent from the bill. But this action
on a different piece of legislation returned me to my depression, and my belief that our torture policies, which are now ingrained into law by default, will always be a feature of 21st-century American life, at great cost to our collective souls.
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday questioned the continuing value of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program for terrorism suspects, suggesting that international condemnation and the obstacles it has created to criminal prosecution may outweigh its worth in gathering information.
The committee rejected by one vote a Democratic proposal that would essentially have cut money for the program by banning harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies, a committee report revealed [...]
In a closed session on May 23, two Democrats, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California, proposed barring spending on interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual, which bans physical pressure or pain.
Under their proposal, the only exception would have been when the president determined “that an individual has information about a specific and imminent threat.”
The amendment failed when Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, joined all the Republicans in voting no.
So tough talk about the uselessness of torture, how it damages our moral standing, weakens our relationship with our allies, puts our soldiers at risk and doesn't pay off with decent information... but when the rubber hits the road, Bill Nelson must retain the culture of permanent fear and ensure that such tactics will continue without limits. And this isn't about Bill Nelson, per se. In our political system and especially in our political age, it's nearly impossible to undo a vote once it's been codified. There's no enthusiasm for right and wrong, just for winners and losers. And once that's been sorted, everybody moves on to the next thing. There's no examination of the underlying reasons, no testing the assumptions, no call to sanity and morality. Even a horrific policy like torture GAINS in stature the more it's allowed to operate. The Republican Party wants to nominate Jack Bauer at this point. And even Democrats like Bill Nelson won't do anything to get in the way. When the McCain Amendment came up for a vote, 90 Senators opposed torture as it's defined in the Army Field Manual. With this vote, every Republican and one Democrat refused to deny funding to a CIA program if it's not in compliance with that same Field Manual. The consensus is going TOWARD, not away from, sanctioning torture as an acceptable policy in this country.
Let's be clear what we're talking about here. The United States reverse engineered
programs designed in the Cold War era based on Soviet techniques like “prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, sleep deprivation and even waterboarding.” These techniques were migrated to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and given a euphemistic title of "enhanced interrogation techniques" which is a term that is directly out of Nazi interrogation manuals
, although even they objected to things like hypothermia and waterboarding. While military interrogators at Gitmo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib used these new tools, despite the fact that leading intelligence experts
have concluded that the techniques are "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable," the CIA enlisted private companies
to help them with rendition flights of terror suspects plucked off of the streets in foreign countries, in essence making the private companies, like Boeing, an accessory to "the forced disappearance, torture and inhumane treatment" (the ACLU is now suing Boeing over this). All the while conservatives cheer on this barbarism in the name of "getting tough with terrorists," claiming that any critic of this policy "doesn't understand the nature of the threat we face" (something Paul Waldman
does an excellent job of rebutting, pointing out that, considering the leading GOP candidates are routinely conflating Iraq and Al Qaeda
and grouping everything Muslim into one enemy, "understanding terrorism" must mean knowing as little as humanly possible about it). And yet these are the same people who will find some random news item about terrorists torturing and kidnapping people, and try to make the argument that critics of US torture policies are being hypocritical because they don't point out terrorist torture policies. Conservative with a brain John Cole
makes quick work of this argument:
It isn’t news because they are terrorists, you fucking simpletons. Yesterday, my cat scratched himself then shit in a box. The media didn’t report that, either.
But it really shows an insight into the modern-day conservative mind that the best argument they can think of for the wholesale torture of detainees - at great peril to our moral standing, international cooperation, and troop safety - is that Al Qaeda does it too. There's never any thought to the notion that Al Qaeda should not be the human rights measuring stick for a country supposedly committed to freedom and liberty such as this one. Here's Glenn Greenwald
The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out? [...]
And with that twisted equivalency bolted into place, they have dragged our country on a path where that premise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own interrogation methods are reverse-engineered from the most brutal and barbaric countries and groups on the planet. And the policies and practices we have adopted over the last six years embody everything which this country, for decades, vocally deplored. But all of that happened because of this "belief" -- which is really just a self-justifying rationalization -- that we not only have the right to be, but that we must be, exactly like Al Qaeda, do what they do, in order to defeat them.
That is what leads to such indescribably inane though revealing protests: "Hey, you reported that the U.S. tortures, so why aren't you reporting that Al Qaeda does? Whose side are you on?" That is the rancid depth to which our public discourse and our national standards have descended, and those who brought it to that point have designs on dragging it far lower still.
And that's a slippery slope which is unlikely to be able to scale. A country that uses "enhanced interrogation techniques," that denies basic rights of habeas corpus and evidentiary grounds for detention, is what we are right now. We have a Democratic Congress and this continues. We will have a Democratic President, maybe by January 2009, and yet this will still continue
. There is little outrage and less principled opposition to the road these authoritarian zealots have taken us down. The conservative base, while abandoning the original messenger, is still whipped into a frenzy of fear and vengeance that is unlikely to dissipate. And there remains a foreign policy consensus that trusts American power to manage the world's conflicts and wage war on Islamic radicalism. It's a genie that's been out of the bottle for many decades, and I would suggest that naivete guides the thinking of anyone who thinks we can immediately put it back inside. Or that our leaders in Washington even want to. Sometimes I think the only thing that raises the ire of anyone in Congress about torture is that news of it leaked out publicly.
It's with a great deal of sadness that I write this. Sad for the country that was built on idealism but quickly descended into the business of scoundrels. Sad for what the political system has mutated into, with its fondness for victory and defeat instead of liberty and justice. Sad for the realization that this is a staple of American life in 2007, as much a part of things as Dancing With the Stars and congested freeways. We have now become what we have long despised, and there's little we can do about it except hang our heads in shame.
Labels: Bill Nelson, conservatism, culture of fear, detainee abuse, extraordinary rendition, habeas corpus, terrorism, torture