Oct 26, 2007

The Spirit of Torquemada

Loss of habeas corpus last year, rendition, torture—all of these things cluster around a central problem with this country's deteriorating integrity during the years of the Bush Administration. (I will leave aside for the moment the illegality of the War in Iraq—or the War in Afghanistan for that matter—no matter what authority the Congress voted to give George Bush in 2001, the war is still a war of aggression, the supreme international crime, and a violation of the supreme law of the land since all treaties we sign become the supreme law of the land. And it is the crime for which we hung and imprisoned a few Nazis in 1945 .)

No, put those aside for the moment and let us consider the candidate for attorney general, supported so happily by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York who now, I hope, has enough guts to realize he made a mistake. I listened to the first two days of Mukasy's testimony last week; I've read a lot of commentary and have looked over the transcripts and found his exchange with the Senators on the matter of torture just a little too much to countenance.

I am mad as hell, because I think he will be worse than Gonzalez. He appears to be smarter and more competent. Remember what Mukasy said about the torture memo? Quoting some 19th century cynical politician, he said "it was worse than an error, it was a mistake." The Press picked up on "mistake" as something positive. I found the paraphrase worse, for it just reinforced the modus operandi of Cheneyism: no memos, no phone calls, no records, no paper trail, no archives, secrecy above all.

I'm not being too passionate about this matter. Those who know me well know that some of the most angry arguments I have ever gotten into with ex-friends and close family members have always centered around violations of another person's integrity and person. All of my values have at their core the belief that no one should be forced to do something against her will. In that sense, the core of my belief has a great deal in common with classic Liberalism (that of John Stuart Mill) and in contemporary politics, with Libertarianism. The violation of another person against his will is a cardinal sin in my belief system. The violation of a person's basic rights to justice is another component that flows from the same core. It makes me a Liberal, and I am proud of it.

Mukasy's refusal to make a clear statement on torture, and his comment that there might be areas of authority in which the President was not bound to the Constitution or to Congressional or Judicial oversight made him out to be just a smarter and more dangerous adherent to the unitary executive theory.

So I am most concerned and most condemn the apparently strong Judge Mukasy being unable or refusing to voice what should be a simple and just opinion on the matter of torture. Instead, he weaseled out of the questions by saying he does not know enough about the process to decide if water-boarding is really torture. Because I think what is happening is that Mukasy, as so many Americans, just cannot bring himself to understand that the very crux of American Constitutional belief centers around the matter.

After Mukasy testified, Senator Patrick Leahy promised he would communicate with him in writing on the matter of water-boarding. And so this letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee to Judge Mukasy was sent. (Thanks to TPM for the archived copy of the letter.) As the letter points out very early, a response on Mukasy's waffling was quickly given by Rear Admiral John Hutson. The former Navy Judge Advocate General and Dean of the Franklin Pearce Law Center responded to Mukasy's testimony by commenting that
Other than, perhaps the rack and pinion, water-boarding is the most iconic example of torture in history. It was devised, I believe, in the Spanish Inquisition. It has been repudiated for centuries. It's a little disconcerting to hear now that we're not quite sure where water-boarding fits in the scheme of things. I think we have to be very sure where it fits in the scheme of things.
Note the signatures on the last page. Not one Republican, even Lindsay Graham, who should know better, had the cajones to sign the letter. Not Arlen Spector.

And how does that manifest itself in other Republicans of note? Add to Mukasy testimony a fine discussion of the matter of sleep deprivation as torture and the response of Rudi Giuliani, who is such a whore for support campaigning in New Hampshire, that he even holds himself out as a Boston Red Sox fan. (As more than one person has pointed out, he spent more time in his private box in Yankee Stadium in 2001 and 2002 than he did at Ground Zero in Manhattan. No Yankee fan ever roots for the Boston Red Sox.) Anonymous Liberal, a pretty well-known and very sharp attorney, sitting in for Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, puts together some relevant quotes in his post on Giuliani's support for torture.

First, AL quotes from a BBC News article on “The Real Victims of Sleep Deprivation” which ends with an excerpt from Menachem Begin, writing about being tortured by the KGB in White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia:
In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them.

He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them - if they signed - uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days.
And now, here's Giuliani out in Iowa on the subject of sleep deprivation:
But they talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I'm getting tortured running for president of the United States. That's plain silly. That's silly.
Which really shows, of course, that he does not know the first thing about it, for if he did he would take it seriously or perhaps even refrain from making the joke. In fact, his ignorance makes him out to be pretty silly himself. (I will say it's more tolerable than George Bush, who would give a condescending smirk.) I would hope that a person who was running for the Presidency and who had spent most of his career as a lawyer and a Federal prosecutor before becoming Mayor of New York City in 1993 and who holds himself forth as an expert on terrorism, would be a bit more serious about torture.

So maybe he knows more about torture when it's water boarding?
And I see, when the Democrats are talking about torture, they're not just talking about even this definition of waterboarding, which again, if you look at the liberal media and you look at the way they describe it, you could say it was torture and you shouldn't do it. . .
But is water boarding torture? asks his interlocutor, Linda Gustitus? She is the president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. She's questioning him out in Iowa. She wanted to know how he regarded water-boarding, because Michael Mukasey, Bush’s nominee for attorney general, had “fudged” on the question of whether it is torture.
Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it’s been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that’s the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn’t be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I’ve learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don’t always describe it accurately.
But look carefully, at what Giuliani noodles in his response: ”It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.” This comment is the key to the attitude. Does that mean that if the SS does it it's wrong? If the Generals in Myanmar do it, or the Chinese/North Koreans/Vietnamese/Russians in The Manchurian Candidate do it, it's wrong? And so who could possibly be right when they do it? Implied in that answer of Giuliani, of course, is the obvious. It's okay when we do it, but when “they” do it, it's torture. It's just another form of the attitude of all people with murderous power: when they blow us up it's terrorism; when we blow them up it's just response with a bit of collateral damage unavoidably thrown into the mix. The good old American exceptionalism in operation. Anonymous Liberal makes the point better than I can:
That pretty much sums up the prevailing right-wing view on this issue: It's not torture when we do it. It's American exceptionalism taken to an absurd and frightening extreme. It doesn't matter that we draft detailed reports every year chastising all other countries in the world who are known to engage in this activity. It doesn't matter that we've prosecuted people in the past for war crimes for engaging in this same activity. Somehow acts that we would all agree are torture when committed by other countries cease to be torture when they are authorized by the U.S. government (but only for us; it's still torture if others do it). If anyone thinks that the United States' standing in the world will improve if Giuliani becomes president, they're sadly mistaken.
I read things like this, and find nothing but superficiality in Giuliani's thinking; superficiality and toadying, manipulation and facile appeals to the most paranoiac and jingoistic elements in the American electorate. He is courting the vote of the fellow who calls up on a talk radio show and suggests we should just drop the nuke on Iraq, wait thirty years, then colonize it with Americans. (American expats from Arizona and New Mexico, no doubt.)

And then there's Mitt Romney, who I heard on the radio on Tuesday trying to address the comment that the War on Terror was a bumper sticker for George Bush:
Just look at what Osama--Barack Obama--said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all the different types, to come together in Iraq. 'That is the battlefield. That's the central place.’
Romney's campaign said it was just a simple mistake. Obama's campaign commented something to the effect that Romney could switch names as casually as he switches positions. They lost some credibility with me there. The snide attempt to slam back at Romney for a “flip-flop” when really it signified something more important. If Romney had any class, of course, he would have apologized for the error. But you know, “never apologize, never explain,” Rule One of the hard-nosed guide to business and politics.

I have seen some comments that said the mistake was intentional, an attempt to “meld” the two names together and thereby establish an association in the minds of the American public. That's pretty cynical, I'd say, and demands a good deal more acting skill than Romney has, but who knows? After Karl Rove, who really does know? Because in fact, the mistake that Romney made on Tuesday was no more egregious than comments I have seen, read, and heard on talk shows, Fox News, and Internet troll comments, associating Obama with Osama bin Laden. Americans have a lot of trouble pronouncing names and the stranger the name—or let's be blunt and accurate, the more Arabic the name--the more the xenophobic and terror-stricken vapors swirl in their brains.

Pay attention to their language. More on this later. Republicans. Pahh!

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