12 October, 2006

freedom from torture . . .

"Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes." George W. Bush, 23.06.06

Edward S. Herman:
Crucial to Bush's success has been the further collapse of the Democratic Party leadership and its failure to afford the public a serious alternative to the Bush-Cheney Republicans and torture regime. The Democratic leadership supported the Iraq invasion and occupation and continues to squirm to avoid a support of withdrawal even though that is the position now held by a solid majority of the public. These leaders have competed vigorously with the Bush team in genuflection to Israeli demands and support of Israel's attack on Lebanon, its renewed assault on and further immiseration of Gaza, and its continued ethnic cleansing on the West Bank. They are outdoing Bush in inflating the Iran threat and calling for forcible action to meet it.

Given these mini-collapses it was to be expected that the Democrats would be exceedingly quiet in the modest and mainly intra-Republican controversy over the Bush attempt to gain legal sanction for his right to torture. For the Democrats, this campaign, and the torture program, and the serial aggressions and efforts at regime change, don't make Bush a moral outcast or "thug," let alone a "devil" as Hugo Chavez recently called him. The Democrats take umbrage at such a designation, and it is Chavez himself, whose government does not torture, aggress, or pursue regime change elsewhere, who House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi calls a "thug." She and Bush may be power rivals, but she and her Democratic colleagues regard and treat Bush as their leader and agree with him on basic foreign policy issues. They are not going to make torture and the torture gulag a big issue.

["According to Pelosi, "Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had speaking at the U.N. In doing so, in the manner which he characterized the president, he demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela. Hugo Chavez fancies himself as a modern day Simon Bolivar, but all he is is an everyday thug." Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel said: "[Chavez] has to understand that while we have problems politically sometimes with President Bush, that he is still our president and that we resent foreigners coming and condemning our president, whether it is at the United Nations or whether it is in my congressional district." ("Democratic Lawmakers Blast Venezuelan Leader for Bush Insults," Voice of America News, September 21, 2006.)"]

Because the Democrats are on the Bush team and cannot or will not challenge him forcefully on torture, mainstream media challenges are muted as well. The increasingly powerful rightwing echo chamber positively supports Bush on torture, and the centrist ("liberal") media treat the subject in low key and with balance between supporters and opponents of torture, with a sharply critical editorial or two, but without great passion and not hammering away at the topic as of great moral urgency (and of course without the intensity of coverage or moral fervor displayed in the Clinton-Lewinsky case).

. . . There is no list of acceptable and unacceptable "methods of interrogation"-none of the horrible abuses used in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are explicitly prohibited. The legislation keeps methods of interrogation open-ended and subject to final decision by the Decider, not even explicitly repudiating water-boarding, and it makes these looser (and torture-protective) rules the ones applicable in interpreting Chapter 3 of the Geneva Conventions."
. . .

A remarkable feature of this legislation is the great scope it gives the Bush administration for interpreting the meaning of words, including those specifying the intensity and scope of permissible violence against prisoners. Andrew Cohen, noting the "horrible record" of the administration "when it comes to identifying 'enemy combatants' and then detaining them here in the states" (he refers to the Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla cases), asks "Do you believe the Administration has over the past five years earned the colossal expanse of trust the congress [has given it] in the name of fighting terrorism?" He states that the public's answer may well be negative, "But your answer doesn't matter. And neither does mine. To Congress, the answer is 'yes, sir'."
Stephen Rohde, Los Angeles Daily Journal

. . . The problem is compounded by the White House's refusal to explain which practices are barred. In fact, National Security Adviser Steven Hadley refuses to state whether even waterboarding would be prohibited.

Over the past several years, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and information disclosed by the International Committee of the Red Cross show that federal employees have engaged in appalling acts such as soaking a prisoner's hand in alcohol and setting it on fire, administering electric shocks, subjecting prisoners to repeated sexual abuse and assault, kicking and beating prisoners in the head and groin, putting lit cigarettes inside a prisoner's ear, force-feeding a baseball to a prisoner, chaining a prisoner hands-to-feet in a fetal position for 24 hours without food or water or access to a toilet, breaking a prisoner's shoulders and using abusive methods that contributed to several deaths.

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