Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Redefine "Torture" and Then Say We Don't Do It

THE WASHINGTON POST has a strong editorial about Condoleezza Rice's dishonest defense of U.S. policy toward detainee treatment and international obligations:

IN AN ATTEMPT to quell a growing storm in Europe over the CIA's secret prisons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday issued a defense based on the same legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk that led the Bush administration into a swamp of human rights abuses in the first place. Ms. Rice insisted that the U.S. government "does not authorize or condone torture" of detainees. What she didn't say is that President Bush's political appointees have redefined the term "torture" so that it does not cover practices, such as simulated drowning, mock execution and "cold cells," that have long been considered abusive by authorities such as her State Department.

Ms. Rice said, "It is also U.S. policy that authorized interrogation will be consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." What she didn't explain is that, under this administration's eccentric definition of "U.S. obligations," cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not prohibited as long as it does not occur on U.S. territory. That is the reason for the secret prisons that the CIA has established in European countries and other locations around the world, and for the "renditions" of detainees to countries such as Egypt and Jordan: so that the administration can violate the very treaty Ms. Rice claims it is upholding.

It always amazes me how this administration and its supporters claim the right, as the Roman Empire of our time, to be above diplomacy, compromise, negotiation, and the common understandings to which we hold other countries -- yet always and without fail get angry, hurt, and upset when the rest of the world does not recognize that we do so with the most noble of intentions. We want to flex our muscles and throw punches as we please, and be admired at the same time. We want to be feared yet loved. We want to act in ways that terrify and terrorize, but if, in doing so, we are told that the things we do cause terror, we roar and bellow in outrage.

I spend more time than I should trying, trying, trying, to understand why the Bush administration is angry when Europe tells us our secret prisons violate international law, and when they won't take our word for it that we don't torture people in those prisons.

I drive myself to distraction trying to fathom the thinking of conservative bloggers who explode in fury at a leading member of the Senate because he tells a news broadcaster that American soldiers terrorize Iraqis when they conduct arbitrary house searches:

Kerry thinks that the American soldiers are the terrorists in Iraq, applying that unique gift of his for moral relativity once again to indict an entire deployment of soldiers as criminals of the same order as our enemy. And Bob Schieffer sat there, without even raising an objection to Kerry's smear. Had Kerry not shown a long track record of this kind of rhetoric in the past -- and had to answer for it repeatedly during last year's presidential election -- one could possibly believe it came out as a slip of the tongue. However, he obviously has never stopped believing that the American fighting man and woman represents the same relative evil as the Viet Cong, the Khmer Rouge, and al-Qaeda.

The Democrats need to answer for this outrage. Is it really the party position that American soldiers terrorize Iraqi civilians? Do they want the Iraqis to do it instead of us? Kerry has unmasked himself and his fellow anti-war zealots for the hypocrites they are.

What is Captain Ed disputing here? That the U.S. military in Iraq conducts these arbitrary house searches? Or is he arguing that these arbitrary middle-of-the-night house searches do not terrify the Iraqi families that experience them and cause such families to feel terrorized? Is he arguing that U.S. soldiers do not intend to terrorize or terrify, so therefore it doesn't matter how Iraqis themselves perceive having their home broken into and searched by foreign soldiers?

I ask myself, Does it matter what the "party position" is about arbitrary house searches in Iraq if such searches are causing Iraqis to feel terror? Can unquestioning support for arbitrary house searches here in the United States help win the support of Iraqis whose houses at any moment can be broken into and ransacked by American soldiers? What purpose does it serve to condemn domestic critics of such actions if because of those actions we lose the support of the Iraqi people? If we all here at home memorize and repeat every morning and evening the mantra, "Our soldiers are brave and patriotic and they are helping, not terrorizing, the Iraqi people," will that make a rat's ass of difference if Iraqis think U.S. troops behave like cossacks? It's the question that's been asked a zillion times: Is it the criticism of the house searches by men like Sen. Kerry that is hurting "our cause" in Iraq, or is it the house searches themselves?

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