The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cruel and unusual

Torture Watch

Well, I've pretty much had it with the Republican Party. I thought for a long time there that people could be in the GOP and still maintain some semblance of human principles, but after the weak response the Republicans have mustered when it was revealed that we were torturing people I think the party has really just completely lost its moral compass. I still think there are principled people in the GOP, but they are few, far between, and just as cowed as the Democrats are. But the torture of prisoners by US military, US intelligence, and US mercenaries has really been the last straw. This administration has managed to completely reverse all of our values in just four short years. Amazing. (See this funny, but true and truly sad entry by Gen. JC Christian, Patriot on our shifting values.)

I'm constantly amazed at the way we have completely shifted from a Catholic, "we are good because we do good things" point of view to a Calvinist "we are good because God loves us" point of view. I'm probably not enough of a scholar of religions to get that comparison completely right, but I'll try to illustrate what I mean further: The USA is very rich, and relatively powerful, and people here are reasonably well rewarded for their hard work, or at least their innovation (though we are rapidly moving back to the golden era of people being rewarded for gaming the system and exploiting others). And we have a reasonably well-ordered society, which is balanced by a lot of freedoms. We have those last two things because of a strong rule of law. For all those reasons, and many others, I feel truly fortunate to be a native of the US. And I am proud of my country in as much as our system of laws allows us to rise above our baser natures and do good things: treat our poor and sick humanely, provide services for the least among us, help other less fortunate people in other countries develop their way out of crushing poverty, treat everyone as much as possible as equal under the law.

But my pride in my country, Lee Greenwood notwithstanding, ends where my government and the other people in my country do despicable things, when they take actions which are base, or cruel, or harmful, when they through action or inaction consign innocent people to explosive, burning death. I'm not proud when my countrymen, for whatever reason, commit evil acts. Instead I feel ashamed and saddened, both for the harm they have done and also to the ideal which we all pretend, at one point or another, to strive for, because of American Exceptionalism. If this is such a great country, full of wonderful ideals, then let's walk the goddamned walk and quit acting like none of the rules apply to us.

Torturing people is wrong (and so is "abuse", Rumsfeld, you worm-tongued maggot). Not only is it immoral and wrong, but it has proven historically to be incredibly ineffective at eliciting information or accomplishing much else except making people hate the torturer. Not to mention the huge, easily foreseeable PR disaster that comes from abusing prisoners, the majority of whom are innocent. So torture of prisoners is illegal (thanks to the Geneva Convention), immoral, ineffective, against everything America used to stand for, and actually harmful to our cause. Where is the upside? There is none. And yet, a team of lawyers from our executive branch spent weeks figuring out legal loopholes by which Bush is not constrained by any law (hello, theocratic monarchy) because of his burning desire that we should commit torture. How much moral bankruptcy needs to be demonstrated before the country finally turns its nauseated backs on these foul creatures?

Here is an excerpt from Digby discussing his reaction to the "torture memo":

Here we have a "working group" of government lawyers tasked to find out what, if any, legal obstacles there are to presidential orders to torture prisoners in the war on terrorism. They found that the president of the United States has the unlimited power to set aside the laws of the land within his capacity as commander in chief. As has been noted by others, this general idea was explicit in the Nazi Fuehrerprinzip and is implied in what Republican legal theorists similarly like to call the "unitary executive." The American government has, up to now, never openly embraced such a concept.

It is an incredible post, highlighting the banality of the evil of these bureaucrats, discussing "how much agony is it legal to inflict"? when it comes to our treatment of prisoners. It is very reminiscent of the German lawyers, working out how much Jewish blood you had to have before your very life was forfeit. (And don't pull Godwin's law on me, either. When the shoe really does fit, people of good will should not be afraid to point it out).

A note about Digby. After reading around the web quite a bit, I can say without reservation that he consistently writes the best progressive blog out there. He constantly is pumping out ideas and information that is informative and humane. I rarely read something he has written and don't wish that I had written it myself, or could write it myself. Atrios is much more up to the minute, but Digby's work is a close second for relevance, intelligence, and clarity of expression. Excellent stuff.

Rumsfeld was incredibly angry when they hauled him up before Congress to question him about Abu Ghraib. Angry at himself, for authorizing the torture? Angry at the administration of the prison? Angry at the guards and goons who committed the atrocities? No. He was angry because the picture leaked to the press, and the press printed them. That was the extent of his moral outrage.

Ah, Rumsfeld. The man who ordered that the MPs should "take the gloves off" and torture, I mean abuse, of course, John Walker Lindh, the American citizen who somehow or other lost all of the rights that make it great to be an American, because . . . well, because the people in charge wanted him to. What a horrible human being Rumsfeld has demonstrated himself to be.

Here is Bush taking questions at a news conference yesterday :

Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law.

So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

Are you comforted by that? What laws is he talking about here? The ones we all thought we were supposed to be following, or the ones completely made up for him? Are you happy that this country's claims to any kind of good ethical standing are now rooted in the fact that we aren't worse than Saddam Hussein? (Fred Clark has an excellent post on this. An excerpt:
The alternative, I believe, is to remind Americans of, and to recommit America to, an idea of the good that involves more than simply being slightly better than the worst people we can think of. This will involve, among other things, rejecting the notion that the Geneva Conventions are a "quaint" nuisance and instead championing them as an international embodiment of the democratic principles at the core of the idea of America.
)

What a pantload Bush is for pushing us to this place, for no other benefit than that he gets to play tough guy. God only knows what kind of horrible, inhuman gulag has been set up in Guantanamo (by the same people who brought us Abu Ghraib, Miller and Boykin). We just haven't seen the pictures from there yet. And you know who the people there are? They are mostly people who other Afghanis sold out for the reward money. One guy sold his own father to the US forces in Afghanistan. Who knows if they are guilty of anything or innocent? We used to have trials to find things like that out. Now we just let Bush play god, and not the New Testament god, either.

I do feel so fortunate to be born in this country, and I love so much about it. That's why it pains me to see us become a country full of assholes who torture people. Here's Digby on why it took so long for this country to slide down this slippery slope. With any luck, we can grab hold of the slope, and slippery though it is, drag ourselves back up by our fingernails and teeth before we descend any further.

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