Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Torture Is Not Vague, Sir

The President is angry that Congress won't let him torture people.

I heard this (and I'm paraphrasing) on a radio talk show recently, and while I understand the sentiment, and the relationship between Bush and Alberto Gonzales, Gonzales and Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib and the Geneva Conventions (oops, none!), I has assumed I was hearing typical talk show hyperbole — most likely true, but in strict terms, an opinion of the host.

But then I heard this, straight from the Elephant's mouth. The following is an exchange between our President and Steve Holland, the Reuters White House correspondent, on Friday, 9/15/06. [Full transcript]
Q Can I just follow up?

THE PRESIDENT: No, you can't. Steve. If we follow up, we're not going to get -- I want Hillman to be able to ask a question. It's his last press conference -- not yet, Hillman. (Laughter.) Soon. You and Wendell seem --

Q Thank you very much, sir. What do you say to the argument that your proposal is basically seeking support for torture, coerced evidence and secret hearings? And Senator McCain says your plan will put U.S. troops at risk. What do you think about that?

THE PRESIDENT: This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal. You know, it's -- and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.
When I heard this — and I did hear the clip, which was even more chilling — it was the first time fear fought anger in my perception of this man. He is saying, and the context is pretty clear, that “outrages upon human dignity” is too vague a sentiment, and therefore subject to interpretation.

Setting aside the dissociative pathology for a moment, General Article III of that Geneva Convention also states this:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
Can this President really mean what he says? “Outrages upon human dignity” is even defined with an example in the same sentence, which he saw fit to chop to serve his own purpose. Can this man believe this phrase is vague enough to coerce his own Congress to actually ratify a legalized torture program?

He won't call it that, of course.

Later in the news conference he refers to “professionals” being allowed to do a proper “interrogation.” He cites the example of Khalid Sheik Muhammad as being a successful torture victim. Except the information he gave was next to worthless, as it is in most, if not all, coerced confessions.

There is more to disturb the Average American in this exchange, to chill the soul of any decent human being. He returns to Article III repeatedly during the press conference in a mocking, irritable tone, challenging the “clarity” of language no other world leader has misunderstood or deemed fuzzy in 57 years.

For a few seconds, reading the transcript without the sound track, it looked like a discarded Stephen Colbert parody that was just too over-the-top even for him.

Nope. This is our President.

The irony: This President, known for his verbal klutziness, minced words and flung euphemisms about like those dreaded nuanced politicians he scorns.

But the Luntz talking points couldn't have been clearer: torture becomes “alternative interrogation methods” under the new program, and those who carry out the torture orders are “skilled professionals.” And “clarity” means skewing the language of the Geneva Convention's General Article III to the point where countries could abide by it or not.

The only bright spot is that he's getting a fight from within his own party, mostly from people who have served in the military, not the least of which is John McCain. They understand that if the USA can employ these tactics openly, so could our enemies.

They understand that if we begin to use these tactics, we have plunged to moral depths from which we will never recover. So far this thin coalition of reason and compassion is holding its ground.

But the President continues to peddle this program, even today.

If your skin isn't crawling yet, consider this: George W. Bush has jiggered the English language to avoid the Constitution (signing statements), to prosecute an illegal war and resulting occupation (Iraq; conflation of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein), and to listen to your phone calls any time he wants (NSA spy program, or in administration lingo “Terrorist Surveillance Program”).

So how might he employ his newfound tools of questioning? On terrorists? Prisoners of war? Enemy combatants? Seditious detainees? Suspects? Persons of interest?


The issue is beyond politics, beyond Red and Blue, beyond taking sides. This is about the erosion of our basic humanity. This must stop. We must draw the line here, now, and we must never approach it again.

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