Sunday, October 30, 2005


Two types of people classically suffer from sleep deprivation: the parents of infants, and yours truly, for the duration of baseball’s playoffs. Last Tuesday’s (and Wednesday’s) Game 3 was a killer, running until 2:20 AM Eastern Time. Five hours and forty minutes of Tim McCarver should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment even during these Constitutionally-diluted, Patriot Act times. Fox Sports, get rid of the Tim-inater. Do it for the children, before they are permanently scarred.

Speaking of permanently scarred, how do you rest of you feel, knowing the two men who speak for you to the rest of the world are in favor of torture? The Senate, which has a Republican majority the last time I looked, voted 90 to 9 in favor of legislation to ban the use of “cruel and degrading treatment” of any prisoners in U.S. custody. The Bush Administration, in the person of Vice President Dick “Dr. Strangelove” Cheney, immediately submitted an amendment to exempt CIA employees from the measure. President Bush promises to veto the bill if it comes before him without the exemption.

This borders on the surreal. Bush has not vetoed a single bill since he took office. True, he had a legislature of sheep to work with until recently, herded by shameless “true believers” in both houses into voting however the Administration wanted. You doubt this? Just last month a bill to grant oil companies cost subsidies and sweeping environmental exemptions during Katrina rebuilding was extended to forty minutes from the customary five to give Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, and Roy Blunt enough time to cajole, threaten, or extort enough votes to put them over the top, at which time the polls closed within seconds.

Bush himself has a disturbing tendency to confuse stubbornness with backbone. He concedes no errors in the Iraq debacle, intends to stay the course at whatever cost because God speaks to him. Apparently God’s interest does not extend to budgetary issues. The recent highway bill overspent the Bush-imposed ceiling by tens of billions of dollars, containing enough pork to kill every Muslim in the Middle East. No veto there; the tide’s been swinging against him lately and he wants everyone whose arm he might want to twist to go home and tell his or her constituents about the great bridge we’re getting so we can cross Ten-Inch Creek to get from the interstate to the Bumfuck County Bass Fishing Hall of Fame without having to drive three miles down the road, saving tens of ounces of oil in the process.

We’re talking about a lot worse than arm-twisting in the current veto threat. The CIA has been at least indirectly implicated in all of the prisoner abuse scandals of the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. (I’d call them “wars,” but the mission was accomplished two and a half years ago, so the war must be over, right?) Some of these guys watch way too many movies and aren’t wired up the same way as you or me or anyone we’d want to have within two miles of us.

They represent us, too. Many of these nameless (or multi-named), faceless individuals operate under the loosest of controls and act put out at the mention of responsible oversight; yet everything they do reflects on all of us. Have you ever looked at the news after a particularly violent day of terrorism and think, “those people (Iraqis, Chechens, Arabs, Muslims, your choice) aren’t ready (or deserving) of freedom (or decent living conditions, or life itself)?” Be honest. The subliminal urge to generalize, to tar all similar people with the same broad brush, is universal. The world is too complicated to break down each individual motivation, and we’re too busy. This is conceded and understandable.

It’s the same for the other guys.

Every time word gets out that someone was abused, degraded, injured, allowed to die, or killed in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, their families and sympathizers think, “Americans did that.” Who can blame them? Remember, we’re talking about people with less education, who lack our easy access to multiple sources of information, so their opinions aren’t likely to be as “enlightened” as ours.

When they think, “Americans did that,” do they mean, “A small group of potentially sociopathic assholes who have found a job that grants them official indulgence for their acts under the guise of patriotism” did it? Or do they think “Americans” and leave it at that? When (not if) they think “Americans” and leave it at that, they mean me. And you, And my daughter. I have a problem with that. I hope you do, too.

The military has recently resorted to the discredited Vietnam-era practice of reciting enemy body counts to the media. (That’s a different argument, for a different rant.) They do it because they don’t have anything else to measure their activity by. How many times have we “neutralized” Fallujah? Would there be any takers if I offered to bet you we’ll have to go back in there some day? Body count statistics ignore how many new terrorists are created for every one we kill. There is no indication we’re slowing their activities. To the contrary, their Improvised Explosive Devices are becoming more sophisticated and deadly by the day, leading to a logical conclusion that the insurgents (terrorists, if you wish) are either getting better, or working together. Does Cheney still think they’re a bunch of “dead enders” on their last legs?

Remember when we were the good guys? When we fought against those who indulged in torture whether they were Nazis, Fascists, Communists, or Ba’athists? If Bush and Cheney have their way, that’s the column we’ll be in. Americans will be officially-sanctioned torturers, with all the consequences in diminished international stature, disgrace, and increased justification for terrorist acts by our enemies.

I’m not so naïve as to believe we never tortured anyone before. Every war has examples. We used to acknowledge them as aberrations, beyond the pale of American ideals, and treat the perpetrators as the morally hollow cockroaches they are. Now these acts are to be accepted as the price of safety in a dangerous world. I’m old enough to remember denouncing Communism for the philosophy, “The end justifies the means.” With apologies to the comic strip Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

This isn’t the ranting of a bleeding-heart liberal. I’ll stipulate to John McCain’s bona fides on this issue, as well as John Warner’s and Colin Powell’s. Each has come out strongly in favor of the no-torture legislation. This is about doing the right thing, and about either standing up for alleged American ideals or hiding under the bed while pretending evil done in our name is acceptable because we call ourselves the good guys.

Talk is cheap, and saying we’re the good guys doesn’t make it so; history will stand in judgment of our actions. The cowardice shown by condoning certain acts in the name of our safety implies that the ideals and virtues we supposedly believed in and were willing to die for only have value when there is no threat. It blasphemes the virtue we hold dear, and degrades the sacrifices of those who have died to defend it. We will lose all of what we claimed made us special, and still won’t be any safer. We will have sold out the priceless in a vain effort to protect the valuable.

And then the terrorists will have won, even if they never kill another American.

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