Sunday, November 13, 2005

Do you really want to hurt me? Bush: Yes, we do.

Watching a bewildered President Bush declare “We do not torture” last week, responding to a reporter’s question with a squinty, surreal harangue, made me think of an old Three Stooges routine.

Curly steps into a boxing ring to fight a guy twice his size. The referee gets both fighters together and says something like: “Now, I want you guys to play be the rules. There’ll be none of this (He stomps on Curly’s toes.) or this (pokes him the eyes), or this (punches him in the stomach, causing him to double over) and especially none of this (slams a fist into the back of his head). Now go out there and give me a clean fight!” By this time, Curly doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going and the referee is beginning to resemble Donald Rumsfeld.

In the wake of “The Washington Post’s” revelation that the CIA has secret detention centers overseas, you can bet the Bushistas are touchy about torture. So much so, that Bush hijacked Veterans’ Day to attack his critics coming within an inch of calling them traitors. For Bush, the entire week was the political equivalent of being a guest at Abu Ghraib.

The rollicking week began in Panama when a reporter asked Bush if he’d allow the Red Cross access to the secret CIA sites and if he agreed with Dick Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from anti-torture legislation.

Bush spun like a tornado. “Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people; the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.

“And, therefore, we’re working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible — more possible to do our job. There’s an enemy that lurks and plots and plans, and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we’ll aggressively pursue them. But we will do so under the law. And that’s why you’re seeing members of my administration go and brief the Congress. We want to work together in this matter. We — all of us have an obligation, and it’s a solemn obligation and a solemn responsibility. And I’m confident that when people see the facts, that they’ll recognize that we’ve — they’ve got more work to do, and that we must protect ourselves in a way that is lawful.”

Sadly, there was no follow-up question along the lines of “What the fuck did you just say?” or “If you don’t torture, why are you threatening to veto a defense spending bill containing Sen. John McCain’s anti-torture amendment?” (By the by, the Administration is on record saying they’re against it because it would be “unnecessary or duplicative” and could restrict “the president’s ability to conduct the war (on terrorism) effectively under existing law.” You need a Quija board to figure that one out. Maybe a tin foil hat.)

Oh, yeah, the existing law, concocted by Bush, Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales allows interrogators to torture someone up to but not past the point of “organ failure and death.” These compassionate conservatives are a hoot. Oh, yeah, the reason they can do this is that the memo excludes al Qaeda and Taliban members from being treated as POWs (thus subject to rules of the Geneva Convention).

Now, how do you tell which “enemy combatant” is an al Qaeda member or just someone who was at the wrong place at the wrong time? I mean, do Al Qaeda members wear monogrammed blazers? Do they carry business cards? “Hi, I’m Omar. Al Qaeda, Lodge 65.”

Well, as long as we don’t torture them.

Coincidentally, that same day, the Pentagon announced that five more additional terror suspects at Gitmo will face military trials on various charges including attacks on civilians. That brought the number of prisoners charged to NINE out of approximately 500 interred. Nine? Don’t they watch “Law and Order” re-runs over there. Take notes, guys. TNT knows drama!

Well, by Tuesday, BushCo. was busily re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to no avail.

The US Defense Department revealed that it had issued a broad policy directive prohibiting physical or mental torture during military interrogations. The directive calls for humane treatment but doesn’t define it, leaving the issue to a separate directive that is still being debated, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Signed by acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on November 5th, the directive was obviously intended to throw some water on the torture blaze. The only problem? The CIA doesn’t have to abide by it, since its not part of the Defense Department, and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can authorize exceptions to be made when he sees fit.

“The New York Times,” meanwhile, revealed that a classified report last year warned that some interrogation procedures approved by the CIA after the September 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Oopsie-doodle!

The report by CIA inspector general John Helgerson listed 10 procedures approved in early 2002 for use against terror suspects, including one known as “waterboarding” in which a detainee is made to feel as if he is drowning.

Helgerson did not conclude that those procedures constituted torture, but found they did appear to constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the convention. Whew! I was worried there, for a minute.

(Ironically, while all this was going on, five U.S. soldiers with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq were charged with abusing three detainees as they were preparing to transfer them to a prison last September. These kids today, eh? Where do they get these crazy ideas?)

Eventually, of course, the entire torture tango spilled over into Spanky McClellan’s press baffling with Helen Thomas leading the charge. (Just think of the following excerpt as the BDSM version of Bud and Lou’s “Who’s on first?” routine.)

Q: I’d like you to clear up, once and for all, the ambiguity about torture. Can we get a straight answer? The President says we don’t do torture, but Cheney —

McCLELLAN: That’s about as straight as it can be.

Q: Yes, but Cheney has gone to the Senate and asked for an exemption on —

McCLELLAN: No, he has not. Are you claiming he’s asked for an exemption on torture? No, that’s —

Q: He did not ask for that?

McCLELLAN: — that is inaccurate.

Q: Are you denying everything that came from the Hill, in terms of torture?

McCLELLAN: No, you’re mischaracterizing things. And I’m not going to get into discussions we have —

Q: Can you give me a straight answer for once?

McCLELLAN: Let me give it to you, just like the President has. We do not torture. He does not condone torture and he would never —

Q: I’m asking about exemptions.

McCLELLAN: Let me respond. And he would never authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people. We are engaged —

Q: That’s not the answer I’m asking for —

McCLELLAN: It is an answer — because the American people want to know that we are doing all within our power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. There are people in this world who want to spread a hateful ideology that is based on killing innocent men, women and children. We saw what they can do on September 11th —

Q: He didn’t ask for an exemption —

McCLELLAN: — and we are going to —

Q: — answer that one question. I’m asking, is the administration asking for an exemption?

McCLELLAN: I am answering your question. The President has made it very clear that we are going to do —

Q: You’re not answering — yes or no?

McCLELLAN: No, you don’t want the American people to hear what the facts are, Helen, and I’m going to tell them the facts.

Q: I’m asking you, yes or no, did we ask for an exemption?

McCLELLAN: And let me respond. You’ve had your opportunity to ask the question. Now I’m going to respond to it.

Q: If you could answer in a straight way.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I’m going to answer it, just like the President — I just did, and the President has answered it numerous times.

Q: — yes or no —

This went on for quite some time, with David Gregory of NBC joining in before McClellan lost it and declared: “Well, obviously, you have a different view from the American people. I think the American people understand the importance of doing everything within our power and within our laws to protect the American people.”

Spanky later sniffed: “This involves information that relates to doing all we can to protect the American people. And if you have a different view — obviously, some of you on this room — in this room have a different view, some of you on the front row have a different view.”

McClellan: the Great Communicator.

Shortly thereafter, the Senate rejected draft legislation that would have created a blue ribbon commission to examine whether torture was used at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib frat house and other US-run overseas prisons. The measure was defeated by a party line 43 to 55 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

It’s rumored that the Republicans wore paper bags over their heads so as not to be identified on C-Span.

Also throwing a spanner into the BushWorks last week, the Supreme Court agreed to rule on the legality of Bush’s planned military commissions for accused terrorists. Bush has always insisted that the details of the detention of accused terrorists, their interrogation, trial and punishment are for him to decide as War Preztledent.

Instead, the Court will hear the case of Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, examining whether Bush indeed can claim that power. Said Hamdan’s lawyers: “The president’s unilateral creation of commissions, his single-handed definition of the offenses and persons subject to their jurisdiction, and his promulgation of the rules of procedure combine to violate separations of powers. The (American) Revolution was fought to ensure that no man, or branch of government, could be so powerful.”


By mid-week, the torture blaze was still a’ burnin’, so the Republicans decided to ride to the rescue. In terms of “The Washington Post” tale of secret CIA prisons? Let’s spin it. Senator Bill “Hello Kitty” Frist and Rep. Dennis “Are you done with those fries?” Hastert declared that they were penning a letter to demand an investigation of that heinous leak! (Again, irony is lost on these mooks.)

The wind was taken out of their sails, somewhat, by Trent Lott, who said it was probably a Republican senator who spilled the beans, seeing as how they’d all met with Torquemada, I mean, Dick Cheney, the previous week to discuss the very same topic. D’oh!

The foot-in-mouth disease outbreak in Congress led to a classic AP headline: “Frist Worried About Leak, Not Prisons.”

“My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security - period,” Frist purred. In terms of the illegal prisons? “I am not concerned about what goes on and I’m not going to comment about the nature of that.”

Our government inaction.

Adding to Bush’s woeful week (aside from election night results), was the presence of everyone’s favorite bullshitter Ahmad Chalabi, the guy whose tall tales helped get us into Iraq. He met with Administration honchos like Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, presumably while Bush rode his bike in the opposite direction at warp speed, and put a spotlight on the ever-growing shitstorm regarding bogus intelligence leading up to our Iraq dalliance.

The week ended brilliantly, with Bush hijacking Veterans’ Day to promote his Operation Iraqi Fubar while lashing out at his critics and AP-Ipsos releasing poll results under the headline: “Poll: Most Americans Say Bush Not Honest.”

Re: the poll, nearly six in ten respondents said Bush is not honest, a similar number said Bush’s administration is ethically challenged, 56% disapproved of the way he’s handling the war on terriers, 82% said he’s stubborn and only 37% thought he was doing a good job.

Later, in front of an audience at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, Bush gave his patented “Iraq was a good idea #145B speech,” but added some venom for those who dared to question his good judgment.

“While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions or the conduct of the war,” he grimaced, “it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.”

The boy was on a roll. Like Elmer Gantry in cerebral short pants, President Popinjay ranted: “Some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs. (Note: They weren’t charged to investigate that.) They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. (Note: nope.) They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

“Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: ‘When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security.’

“That’s why more then a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power. (Note: And that intelligence was supplied to them by, hmmm, YOU?)

“The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send to them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that when — whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.”

On the plus side, he didn’t goose-step off the stage.

On the down side, if you don’t agree with the boy, you’re aiding and abetting the enemy and dissing our troops. Democracy’s on the march!

Should anyone working for the CIA read this, here’s a tip in terms of your interrogation techniques. This might actually give you more bang for our bucks. I think I’ve finally come up with the definitive definition of the ultimate torture.

Listening to George W. Bush speak.


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