Control The World
By Bernard Weiner
20 September, 2006
Clinton tried to fudge the truth
when he claimed he'd "never had sexual relations with that woman,
Miss Lewinsky," but he felt he could get away with that language
because, in his mind, he defined "sexual relations" as referring
to vaginal intercourse.
Bush, with a straight face,
tells us that he has never authorized torture, and he thinks he can
get away with that lie because the public is mostly unaware that his
administration has totally altered the definition of "torture."
According to the infamous
2002 torture memos, which effectively set the policy, torture no longer
means what we all understand that term to mean (physical beatings, shoving
suspects under water to "drown" them unless they give up secrets,
electric shocks to the genitals, unbearable stress, sexual abuse and
humiliation, etc.). No, those internationally-understood definitions
have become, under Bush&Co., "quaint" remnants from an
Under the leadership of Alberto
Gonzales and other lawyers -- mainly from the White House, Rumsfeld's
office, and Cheney's office -- the Bush Administration went through
all sorts of moral gyrations and emerged with new definitions of what
constituted torture. Basically, it's not torture if it doesn't kill
you or if the excruciating pain and injuries don't lead to organ failure.
You think I'm exaggerating?
Check it out for yourself. The Justice Department's August 1, 2002,
legal memo concluded that "the ban on torture is limited to only
the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm," which the
memo defined as akin to "death or organ failure." (See also
Torture Deceit: What 'Is' Is," and "Gonzales
Grilled on Role in Torture at Confirmation Hearing").
So when Bush says the U.S.
doesn't torture and he would never authorize torture, in a sense he
believes himself to be telling the truth, since he totally transformed
the meaning of "torture" to give it a totally different, exceedingly
narrow, interpretation. The Administration apparently believes that
as a result of interrogations under what Bush calls its "alternative
set of procedures," only if the detainees die or are the victims
of organ failure could officials rightfully be accused of authorizing
torture. (Actually, it's estimated that perhaps as many as 100 detainees
have died while in U.S. custody, scores of them directly from torture.)
A FEW "EXCEPTIONS" FROM TORTURE LAWS
Furthermore, Bush is asserting
that U.S. laws against torture, and Congressional oversight of such
activity, should only apply to interrogations that take place on American
soil. If the CIA uses the "alternative procedures" in Iraq,
or Afghanistan, or in the secret CIA prisons abroad, those don't count.
Plus, the Administration has moved to shield those who authorized and
carry out "harsh" interrogations from national and international
laws against mistreatment of prisoners. Meanwhile, of course, a few
lower-level, enlisted "bad apples" have been tried, convicted,
and sent to prison.
Likewise, according to the
Bush Administration, the "extraordinary rendition" of especially
recalcitrant prisoners to friendly countries abroad that are notorious
for extreme physical torture does not count as the U.S. cooperating
in the administration of torture. The Bush crew play variations on:
"They were tortured there? Really? We are shocked, shocked! We
don't approve of torture and had no idea it was used on prisoners entrusted
to their care." Yeah, sure.
But recently, in making the
case to Congress that it should pass the Administration's draconian
laws permitting such "alternative procedures," Bush let the
cat out of the bag and admitted that several al-Qaida suspects gave
up a good deal of valuable information while being interrogated in those
secret CIA prisons abroad. But he still denies that his administration
carried out "torture" there. Does he think we're stupid?
Do you see how it works?
And the ramifications of how it works? In short, Bush&Co. have simply
rewritten the dictionary to remove their legal liability for such crimes,
and in the process have re-written the rules under which they, and their
subordinates, act. When reality doesn't meet their needs, they don't
consider making alterations to their policies; they just change the
definition of what's "real."
BUSH DESPERATE FOR TORTURE VICTORY
In a sign of how desperate
Bush is to maintain complete control of the torture definition -- and
thus keep himself and other top U.S. officials out of the war-crimes
court in The Hague -- Bush took a rare visit to Congress last week to
try to forestall defeat of his torture/military tribunals bill. It was
a definition struggle again.
The Geneva Convention on
the treatment of captured prisoners is quite clear and specific; no
country is permitted to use "cruel" treatment or "outrages
upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment"
on prisoners in its care. Too "vague," says Bush. Instead,
he suggests, CIA interrogators need "latitude" (euphemism:
"clarity") in interrogating and torturing suspects so that
they won't be nervously looking over their shoulders at war-crimes charges.
The Pentagon's senior lawyers
think Geneva's definitions are quite clear and openly disagreed with
the hardline Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld interpretation of Common Article 3
of the Geneva Convention. Even Colin Powell bestirred his calcified
conscience to point out that by trying to do an end-around Geneva, the
U.S. risked losing the moral high ground internationally. Also, as Sen.
John McCain (who was tortured as a POW in Hanoi) and others have pointed
out, the U.S. would put its captured troops in great jeopardy of "cruel
and degrading" treatment -- in other words, torture -- similar
to what the CIA was meting out in its secret prisons abroad.
senators McCain, Graham, Snowe, Warner and others have been demanding
that the U.S. remain consistent with the Geneva protections and also
provide some legal safeguards to suspects on trial in military tribunals.
But time and time again, these so-called "moderates," under
extreme Roveian pressure, have caved and given Bush what he wants. As
I write this, it's unclear whether they have the courage to stick to
their guns this time. We shall see. In the meantime, get this: Bush
threatened to close down the CIA's questioning of terrorist suspects
unless Congress approves his bill. Talk about cutting off your nation's
nose to spite your personal face! Blackmail as a pre-emptive veto.
THE IMMORALITY OF "PRE-EMPTION"
Let's move to another definition,
at another level. Bush's National Security Strategy asserts that the
U.S. can "pre-emptively" attack another country when it determines
that country might possibly be thinking of attacking America or grossly
harming our interests. In the "old days" -- that is, pre-Bush
-- the definition of "pre-emption" meant that a country, in
some circumstances, was permitted under international law to act first
when faced with an imminent threat of attack.
In Bushspeak, it doesn't
matter that the countries in question might be 10 or 15 years out from
being a viable threat, or that while they might be antagonistic to U.S.
policies they have no intent of ever actually attacking America. No,
according to the Bush Doctrine, you destroy possible or potential enemies
first, long before they have the chance to even think of doing the U.S.
That's one of the Administration's
ex-post-facto justifications for having invaded and occupied Iraq. Once
the early rationales for attacking were shown to be false -- those big
lies including that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD, and was allied with
al-Qaida in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks -- then the Administration
went back to its "pre-emption" rationalization, in effect
asserting: "We had to attack before Saddam got close to reconstituting
his weapons programs; even though U.S./U.K. intel was confirming that
Iraq was well-contained and that it could be 10 years before they would
be a believable threat to anybody, we had to act now, to abort that
development in its blastocyst stage before that potentially dangerous
fetus could grow and do us harm as an adult."
Transfer that rationalization
theory to a trial for murder: "Your honor, I cannot be convicted
of murdering the victim by shooting him six times. I fully believed
he was thinking of doing me harm, maybe next year or the year after
that, and so I took him out pre-emptively. It was a clear case of early
self-defense." That explanation should satisfy a Bush Administration
NO COURT REVIEW PERMITTED
Perhaps the most reprehensible
aspect of the Administration's desperation to avoid indictment for authorizing
torture is a tactic they've used in other areas as well: Trying to eliminate
judicial review of their actions. In taking this tack, they are making
an open assault on the Constitution and several centuries of governmental
Despite the fact that Bush&Co.
have packed the Supreme Court and the various appellate courts with
their ideological brethren, they still don't have total control of the
legal system, and therefore want to avoid judicial review whenever possible.
They know how weak their Constitutional cases are. So they have had
their flunkies in Congress introduce a variety of bills to prohibit
court review of certain Administration policies and laws -- as if the
Supreme Court would ever OK having its judicial prerogatives revoked.
But in the Administration's
military-tribunals bill currently before Congress, Bush&Co. also
have inserted an in-your-face clause that would prevent civilian courts
from intervening in, or reviewing the legality of, the proposed military
tribunals. This would totally violate America's historic checks-and-balances
system of governance, and would amount to the Executive Branch effectively
controlling the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. In
short, a budding dictatorship.
As noted previously,
the Administration has created what they consider to be an airtight
legal justification for Bush to act outside the law whenever he claims
to be doing so as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime."
Since his "war on terrorism," by definition, is a never-ending
war, this means his actions "in defense of the homeland" permanently
cannot be challenged. Sounds like the ingredients for dictatorship.
THE COURT SLAPS DOWN BUSH
No wonder Bush is leery of
courts ever getting near the justifications for his imperial presidency.
The two times when the Supreme Court did review his behavior toward
detainees in U.S. care, he was reprimanded mightily, in no uncertain
In the 2004 case of Mr. Hamdi,
a U.S. citizen, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Court: "We
have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check
for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens.
... Even the war power [of the President] does not remove constitutional
limitations safeguarding essential liberties."
In the recent case of Mr.
Hamdan, a foreign suspect, the court slapped down Bush's I-am-the-Law
approach again. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority: "[I]n
undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the
Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this
REVOLT OF THE MODERATE MIDDLE
The power to nominate new
Supreme Court justices is just one of many reasons w hy the momentum
of this outlaw administration must be broken as quickly as possible.
Which brings us to the midterm elections in November.
The imminence of that election
explains why Bush is trying to create a rushed, "crisis" atmosphere
to get his bill passed; after all, his Administration could have brought
these suspects to trial anytime within the past five years. "We're
running out of time," Bush says, by which he really means: "We've
got to get this issue neutralized now, before the election, or else
we can't smear the Democrats as pro-terrorist for blocking my bill,
since it will be Republicans, with military credentials, who also are
doing the obstructing."
Even if the GOP rebels hold
their ground this one time, but especially if they don't, the American
people -- left, right and center -- must speak with one enormous groundswell
of revulsion against the ruling Republican Party in the Congress that
has rubber-stamped virtually everything Bush&Co. have asked for.
A convincing GOP defeat in the House would do great damage to the Administration's
momentum of lawlessness.
The current fracturing of
the Republican Party in Congress is a testament to the revolt of the
moderate middle in America against the Bush Administration's catastrophic
bungling in Iraq, its demonstrated incompetence in the Katrina debacle,
its lies and deceits, its slimy denunciations of those who oppose CheneyBush
Iraq policy (which means about two-thirds of the American people) as
terrorist-supporting traitors, etc., etc.
If the GOP can be roundly
trounced two months from now at the polls, its defeat will be due in
no small part to those honest, traditional conservatives who, appalled
by the hijacking of their once-great party by extremists from the Far
Right, are thoroughly fed up and have had enough of misrule on a grand
scale. (Note: This election, given Rove's previous history, will require
extreme vigilance, and probably court suits, to keep the voting honest
Let us all -- Democrats,
Libertarians, Independents, progressives -- join with these moderate
Republicans, and start the process of moving our country back to common
decency, earned respect, and a sane foreign and domestic policy based
on reality and the true needs of the American people. Can I hear an
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in
government & international relations, has taught at various universities,
worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years,
and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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Copyright 2006, by Bernard