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Veto of the Anti-Torture Bill
Bush the Torturer, the Tyrant, the Disgrace

How the United States degrades itself

On Saturday, Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have outlawed the CIA's use of torture in interrogations (a bill, it should be noted, John McCain, alleged opponent of torture, voted against). He had the temerity, our Dear Leader, to begin his official endorsement of torture in his radio address this morning with these words: “Good morning.” Good for him and his kind of delusional sadists, maybe. Not so good for this country, whose reputation today takes one more plunk toward the abyss of rogue and less than ordinary nations. Not so good for the rest of the world, either, whose nations have been disbelievingly howling, in Babels of translations, that most American of plaints: “Say it ain’t so.” This spring training for terrorist-interrogators (for torture is terrorism at its distilled worst), it very much is so. The United States is officially, proudly, the land of torturers. It’s true that the United States has been at this for years. But the difference here is not only that the president is endorsing torture, but that he’s doing it so openly and willfully. It isn’t arrogance anymore. It isn’t even hubris. Arrogance and hubris suggest that at least some awareness that public perceptions still matter. In Bush’s mind, perceptions are for the birds. This is pure tyranny. His statement embracing torture, a study in mendacity, is worth a line-by-line look.

“This week,” he began, “I addressed the Department of Homeland Security on its fifth anniversary and thanked the men and women who work tirelessly to keep us safe.” Really? As of last May 1, Homeland Security, the Washington Post reported, “had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as in immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard.” It got so bad that a panicky report was sent to the House committee overseeing the department—the department led, as we unfortunately know, by the intrepidly dismal Michael Chertoff, who captained the agency through its finest hour: its spectatorship of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

“Because the danger remains,” Bush continued, “we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.” All the tools. Not the necessary tools, but all the tools. The most effective way not to worry about crossing the line into the dark side is not to have a line at all. For the Dear leader there is no question of nuance, of the difference between right and wrong. It is all right as long as he declares it so. By all means necessary (although I hate to soil Malcolm’s fine line, given its context, with the Dear Leader’s criminal intent). But by that reasoning, nuking Kandahar would be justified. Aren’t nuclear weapons also tools in the fight against “terrorism”? One day, the question may well be answered. Especially if the country insists on electing John McCain (and liberals who personally despise the black one or the bitch, as their prejudices couch them, insist on helping along the reactionaries).

Where Bush Lies Like a Nixonian Sweat Bead

“The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror -- the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives.” The bill, of course, does no such thing. It does not take away the CIA’s right to detain anyone. It does not take away the CIA’s right to question anyone. It only forbids the CIA to employ waterboarding and other forms of torture or degrading and dehumanizing treatment of inmates—inmates, we should always, always remember, who aren’t terrorists, but alleged terrorists. Until they are proven so, it is only their incarcerators who are the demonstrably proven terrorists.

Bush then lists a series of supposed terrorist attacks the interrogations foiled. We have to trust him on that one, as several of them have never been mentioned before. Trusting Bush at this point, of course, is an exercise best left to the pathologically cretinous. One example from the plots Bush does mention—the supposed attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles. It’s an old story, peddled by his administration since 2002. But when even the Voice of America, which is barely two radio waves removed from Radio White House, gives credence to doubts about the Dear Leader’s story, it’s time to give his fictions a chance to get sold as the latest memoir. “Micheal Scheuer, who was the leading al-Qaida expert in the CIA's counter-terrorism center in 2002,” VOA reported in 2006, “says he is not aware of any such serious threat against the West Coast in 2002. As the man in the CIA who knew more about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida than perhaps any other agency officer, he says it is unlikely that he would not have been kept informed on such a plot. “It could be that it was very closely held, but I think that's unlikely," he said. "It could be just a function of my failing memory. But this doesn't sound like anything that I would recall as a major threat, or as a major success in stopping it.’”

Brutality's Euphemisms

Bush in his radio address then moves on to euphemizing torture as “specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision.” It’s a little disingenuous for the man who turned extraordinary renditions into a secret competitor of Disney’s Vacation Club, the man who replaced the Soviet Union’s gulags with a secret gulag of his own (using, cleverly, the Soviet Union’s old prisons in some cases, as in Poland and Romania), the man under whose careful supervision the likes of Khaled el Masri and Maher Arar were wrongly imprisoned, tortured in Afghanistan and Syria, and released without apologies long after the CIA knew they had the wrong men—it’s a little disingenuous for that man now to claim “careful supervision” in torture chambers.

And to characterize torture as “these safe and lawful techniques.” Safe? When, by 2006, more than 100 individuals in American detention had been murdered by their captors? Lawful, when this very veto the Dear Leader is bandying about is an attempt to evade the law? But here’s his reasoning: limiting the CIA to interrogation techniques allowed only by the Army field manual would be wrong because the field manual deals with soldiers. The CIA deals with terrorists. Just as Bush on March 8 officially placed the United States as a champion of torture, Bush on this day also placed the United States as a champion of separating the race between legitimate human beings and sub-human creatures—“hardened terrorists.” The circular argument gives the appearance of perfect logic—if you’re willing to accept the notion that some human beings are not quite human beings. And isn’t that the notion once peddled in the United States about blacks—excuse me, about niggers? Isn’t that the notion peddled about Indians, at least while there were enough of them around that a distinction mattered? Isn’t that the kind of distinction some conservatives attempted to write into the Constitution with their prohibition of “oriental” immigrants at the turn of the last century?

Some things don’t change. Once a bigoted nation, always a bigoted nation. But this goes beyond bigotry. Bush is projecting an interpretation of human beings that links up with the sort of distinctions Nazi and apartheid regimes were known for, when they, too, facilitated the torture and murder of “enemies” by dehumanizing them in the eyes of the public. This is no different. He may be speaking the language of Anglo-Saxon civilization. He may be doing so from the august rooms of the White House. What he’s saying makes him no different in these regards than the tyrants of the 20 th century. His rhetoric is another chain-link to his actions: he dehumanizes in words in order to dehumanize in deeds.

Last month Michelle Obama was criticized for saying that finally, she can be proud of the United States, the implication being that she hadn’t been proud of it before Barack Obama’s hopeful run. She may want to rethink her newfound pride. There’s nothing to be proud of when the president reduces this country to rank criminality while calling it, of all things, a “higher responsibility” that is “keeping America safe.” No one should envy the next Americans to be taken prisoner by rogue nations and terrorists, now that we’re no better than either.

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