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Puppet-Masters Become Cannibals

On Torture and American Values

The New York Times | Editorial     Sunday 07 October 2007

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods — simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation — had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That allowed the White House to claim that it did not condone torture, and to stampede Congress into passing laws that shielded the interrogators who abused prisoners, and the men who ordered them to do it, from any kind of legal accountability.

Mr. Bush and his aides were still clinging to their rationalizations at the end of last week. The president declared that Americans do not torture prisoners and that Congress had been fully briefed on his detention policies.

Neither statement was true — at least in what the White House once scorned as the “reality-based community” — and Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was right to be furious. He demanded all of the “opinions of the Justice Department analyzing the legality” of detention and interrogation policies. Lawmakers, who for too long have been bullied and intimidated by the White House, should rewrite the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act to conform with actual American laws and values.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

This is an easy choice.

  1. Jim Oberg Says:           

    I think that what has changed with this administration is not so much what we have been about with our foreign policy (exerting our repressive control in order to appropriate their wealth), but the blatant extension of the same methods of control used elsewhere now onto our own population. With the use of constant references to 9/11 and “The War On Terror” in order to create a climate of fear and obeisance to authority, our leaders in both parties have systematically removed our freedom, and put in place all the tools of ‘unitary executive’ control (a de facto dictatorship), and are awaiting the moment when they will need to shut down all domestic dissent. All it will take is implementing another dramatic ‘terrorist’ attack, and these tools can be used on us as needed to target the ‘enemies’ among us, apply a little good old torture to expose their nefarious agenda, and we will all be quickly cowed into submission. We will all be mobilized to fight the ‘terrorists’, at home and abroad.

    Why has the veil been lifted so we might see our true intents and actions as a nation, and why are we soon to be the targets of this hard-line control here in America? I think it has to do with a clear understanding among our power elites that the illusion of our consumer society is about to collapse as we encounter the resource limits to never-ending growth. Also, the impact from rapid climate change will soon intensify even our access to the basics of food and water, and our never-ending dreams of entitled prosperity will be dealt a severe blow, occasioning panic and desperation. Without the tools of fascist suppression to control the chaos that will grow over time, our government would collapse, and anarchy would destroy us all. They intend for some ‘worthies’ to survive and share what can be salvaged from the ruins of doomsday capitalism, and what happens to the rest of us is not their concern, apart from doing whatever they can to reduce the numbers of us scrapping for our survival.

    While it is a temptation to debate about what our nation’s overall desires are or have been to bring a better life to the world, it seems beside the point. Our coldly calculating neo-con Bushites see that being the sole superpower requires we use our present window of advantage now to secure our total domination; “full-spectrum domination”, I think they have said. That includes controlling you and me as well as the rest of the world. While our oil wars and our quiet assent to their crimes may ensure that we Americans who toe the line can extend our robbed prosperity a little while longer here in the good ol’ USA, it will all come down upon us in the end.

    Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. With massive concerted efforts to develop sustainable systems, we could have transisted to a future that would allow us to live together in peace. However, it’s probably way too late now, and there is no way to mobilize the political will for this anywhere in the developed world. So we will rape and plunder the world until we finally must extend the savagery to our own neighbors in order to hang on to the ‘prosperity’ owed to us as Americans by God. What a country!

  1. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Dr Schmookler resists discussion on this in depth on this site possibly because it could stir up Real Anti-Semitism and bring problems for Jewish people who have nothing at all to do with all this and may even oppose it themselves.

    No, David R, that’s not it. I appreciate your trying to understand my reasons, but your conjectures are mostly off target.

    I declare this “Ziocon” business to be a distortion because I have studied world affairs in general, and U.S. policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict as two components of that, in particular, for more than fifty years now– and I find the both the demonization of Israel and the imputation to the supposed Zionist influence of a great deal of what’s wrong with the U.S. in the role to be significantly distorted.

    I choose not to go into this subject much here for two reasons. First, because I have enough experience with dealing with people who are deeply and ideologically attached to this distortion to be extremely reluctant to spend much energy trying to have a constructive conversation about it. This reason is like the one that has led me to have ceased trying to talk to my Virginia radio audience about the Bushite regime: of those people I’ve decided, if they still don’t see the truth about their “God-anointed president” after all that’s been shown in the news for the past six years, nothing I could possibly say will alter their views. So why bother?

    But the second reason differentiates this from the Bushite matter. Whereas I began NoneSoBlind believing that confronting just those Bushite mis-perceptions was a big part of the work that needed doing –and gave up on that part of the mission only after it proved futile (as well as unpleasant)– with the Zionist-bashing issue it is really pretty far off target in terms of the work I feel called to do, and the issues I therefore feel it important to engage.

    Yes, there is doubtless a connection between this demonization of Israel and Zionism and the ancient currents of anti-Semitism. Something so deeply entrenched in a civilization does not disappear quickly, or for good. I smell in much of what I hear and read that ancient toxic stench.

    But while that problem may someday become a top priority –I hope not– I believe that other business is presently much more pressing. And while other people are free to establish their own websites to express to all who may wish to hear their views of how terrible Israel is, or how it is Jewish influence that is dragging America into this fascist cesspool, that is not a discussion that I regard as worth investing time and space and energy into on my website.

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