THIS WEEK’S COLUMN: Who Will Be Our Next Torturer-in-Chief?

George W. Bush has shoved American politics into the dark realm of the lunatic right, zipping past Joe McCarthy into territory previously covered by historical accounts of Germany in the 1940s. We’ve lost our right to see an attorney, to confront our accusers, even to get a fair trial. Government agents have kidnapped thousands of people, many of whom have never been heard from again. Bush even signed an edict claiming the right to assassinate anyone, including you and me, based solely on his whims. Torture, the ultimate sign that civilized society has been replaced by a police state, was repeatedly authorized by government officials who smirked the few times reporters had the temerity to ask them about it.

The 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections have been and will prove to be decisive moments in American history. In each case the American people were offered a stark choice between a future of freedom and one under tyranny.
In 2000 the American people chose dictatorship, watching passively as a rogue Supreme Court violated the Constitution and handed Bush the keys to the White House. We had a chance to restore the vision of the original Framers in 2004. Instead, we sat on our asses while Bush stole yet another election. The 2008 race could mark our last chance to get back the system of government we enjoyed before the December 20, 2000 coup.

We must elect–by an overwhelming, theft-proof majority–a candidate who promises to renounce Bush and all his works. A reform-minded president’s first act should be to sign a law that reads as follows: “The federal government of the United States having been illegitimate and illegal since January 20, 2001, all laws, regulations, executive orders, and acts of commission or omission enacted between that infamous day and 12 noon Eastern Standard Time on January 20, 2009 are hereby declared invalid and without effect.” Guantánamo, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails, and “legal” torture would be erased. Our troops should immediately pull out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia; we should apologize to our victims and offer to compensate them and their survivors. Bush should never appear on any list of American presidents. When he dies, his carcass shouldn’t receive a state funeral. It ought to be thrown in the trash.

Unfortunately, no one like that is running for president. To the contrary, most of the major presidential candidates want to accelerate America’s slide into outright moral bankruptcy.

Inspired by what good people find appalling, America’s Mayor has turned into America’s Maniac. Torture, says Rudy Giuliani, is smart. He endorses the medieval practice of waterboarding, revived in CIA torture chambers after 9/11, in which a person is strapped to a board, tipped back and forced to inhale water to induce the sensation of drowning.

“It depends on how it’s done,” Giuliani said when asked about waterboarding and whether it is torture. “It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.” Giuliani used to be a federal prosecutor. Would he have used similar logic in the prosecution of an accused torturer?

The mayor-turned-monster even used a campaign stop in Iowa to mock the victims of sleep deprivation, long acknowledged by international law as one of the severest forms of torture. “They talk about sleep deprivation,” he said. “I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly. That’s silly.”

Waterboarding causes pain, brain damage and broken bones (from the restraints used on struggling victims), and death. Survivors are psychologically scarred. “Some victims were still traumatized years later,” Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, told The New Yorker. “One patient couldn’t take showers, and panicked when it rained.”

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin described the sleep deprivation he suffered as a captive of the Soviet KGB: “In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep…Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”
Giuliani isn’t the only wanna be Torturer-in-Chief. Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, offered this Lincolnesque rhetorical gem at one of the debates: “What do we do in the response to a nuclear–or the fact that a nuclear device or some bombs have gone off in the United States? We know that there are–we have captured people who have information that could lead us to the next one that’s going to go off and it’s the big one…I would do–certainly, waterboard–I don’t believe that that is, quote, ‘torture.'”

In an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said the U.S. does and should torture: “We have received good solid information from [torture], and have saved American lives because of it.”

Duncan Hunter made fun of the concentration camp at Guantánamo: “You got guys like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [a detainee victim of U.S. waterboarding], “who said that he planned the attack on 9/11. You got Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards. Those guys get taxpayer-paid-for prayer rugs. They have prayer five times a day. They’ve all gained weight. The last time I looked at the menu, they had honey-glazed chicken and rice pilaf on Friday. That’s how we treat the terrorists. They’ve got health care that’s better than most HMOs…They live in a place called Guantánamo, where not one person has ever been murdered.”

Three inmates have been found dead at Gitmo. (The military claimed they were suicides.) As of August 2003, at least 29 POWs had attempted suicide. Scores of hunger strikers are being force-fed.

Fred Thompson says he won’t authorize waterboarding “as a matter of course” but likes to keep his options open. Mitt Romney punts questions about waterboarding: “I don’t think as a presidential candidate it is appropriate for me to weigh in on specific forms of interrogation that our CIA would employ. In circumstances of extreme threat to the nation, where we employ what is known as enhanced interrogation techniques, we don’t describe those techniques.”

At a Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Barack Obama refused to rule out torture. “Now, I will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. And there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals [presumably, Tancredo’s hoary “ticking time bomb” fantasy] and emergency situations, and I will make that judgement at that time.” Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden said they agree with Obama. Democrats Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Chris Dodd have offered unequivocal stances against torture. On the Republican side, only John McCain and Ron Paul have done so. Even McCain, himself a victim of torture in Vietnam, refuses to rule out voting to confirm Bush’s attorney general nominee, Michael Mukasey. “If it amounts to torture,” Mukasey said of waterboarding, “then it is not constitutional.”



15 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Any bets on when the bombing of Iran will happen??

  2. JHC Says:

    After the 2004 election, I thought things would get bad, but because of that we’d see real change in 2008. But now we still have Republicans who’d continue Bush’s policies even if they act like they’re distancing themselves from him, and Democrats trying not to do anything too controversial, like saying they wouldn’t torture people.

    The “ticking time bomb” scenario probably would never happen in the real world. Even if it did, and you somehow had someone in custody who knew whre the bomb was, torture still probably wouldn’t help. I mean, you torture the person, they give you a location, and you check but the bomb isn’t there. You torture them some more and they give anoter location and the bomb isn’t there either. You can’t torture them indefinitely because the scenario depends on having a limited amount of time.

    Sensible people have pointed out that though torture might sometimes get people to tell the truth, it’s much better at making them say what you want them to say. And of course it’s good at making you look tough. Tougher than those namby-pamby liberals, anyway.

    As the column says, the Democrat candidates, while they’re better than the Republicans, don’t seem like they’d bring about a lot of change. Clinton and Obama probably want to be careful to keep their leads and won’t say anything to make them look “soft on terror,” even though people don’t care much about that any more.

    However, offending people for other reasons seems okay: The Obama campaign defended his appearance with a gay-hating minister by saying that many other people also hate gays and Obama doesn’t want to leave them out (i.e., he wants their votes). You know, there are lots of Americans who hate Jews too, and, indeed, blacks. But I’m guessing Obama won’t try to appeal to them.

    As for Mukasey, blogger Atrios pointed out in a recent post that the nominee can’t say torture or any of the other horrible things done by the Bush Administraion are crimes, because as Attorney General he’d have to prosecute them. And of course that wouldn’t be good for the country.

  3. Seth Warren Says:

    The bombing of Iran will commence on November 3rd, 2008 (the way things are going, sadly).

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks to Bush, the moral compass of the republican party. The becon of truth light and the christian american way. Most of the world looks at us like morally corupt bullies. Where we had the world behind us going onto Afghanistan, they are now saying gee I hope America does something smart in o8. Maybe the independant party will field a candidate.

  5. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Um, Ted?

    Sorry to be a bot here, but Ron Paul is running like that. I know that the Austrian School of economics and you probably don’t get along, but if you want a President who will dismantle our empire as his first act, you’ve got to support Ron Paul.


  6. Anonymous Says:

    Ron Paul rose to power as a pandering fear-monger at best and a racist at worst. Read any back issues of the “Ron Paul Survival Report” lately? Specifically the racist bile he now claims was ghost-written, but which he nonetheless didn’t seem to object to, insofar as he allowed to be distributed under his own name?

    Who knows? Maybe he’s turned a new leaf now. But I’m kind of dumbfounded as to why everyone turns a blind eye to the guy’s blatantly checkered past. Oh well, as long he’s not from New England he must be Presidential material, right?

    America is dead. Long live ‘Murica.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Bill Richardson is the only candidate I’ve heard talking about cleaning up the mess that Bush has made. Unfortunately, he also wants to cut taxes. Yes, I know that taxes are unpopular, and coming out in favor of raising taxes is political suicide, but taxes pay for civilization. We can’t afford another four years of borrow-and-spend from a president who thinks America is an enormous cookie jar. It’s time to elect a grownup. Are there any around?

  8. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Dear Anonymous 1:
    One part of one issue = a trend? Whatev. And it was likely ghost-written because 1) he’s a politician and 2) he was in office at the time.

    Dear Anonymous 2: I love Bill R, too — but am a registered Repub so can’t help him in the primaries. As far as taxes paying for civilization, that’s just silly. Civilization is when a group of people work together for a common goal. Taxing their wealth only takes the common goal from humanity, giving it to the gubmint, who does an insanely bad job of things. If we worked together as communities we could do far more than a bloated gubmint addicted to the meth of taxes.

  9. Viviana Says:

    A little off-topic, but I think the taxation issue would really be a lot less of an issue if we had taxation with responsive and accountable representation. If I could actually choose where my tax dollars went I would gladly support those areas with my hard-earned cash. Instead I get to pay for bombs I’d never approved of to be used in a war I didn’t approve of against a people I had no reason to fear. Representation my arse!

  10. Angelo Says:

    g.m., You don’t have to convince me that hunter gatherers are a group to be envied, but those days are gone forever.
    Europeans have a higher quality of life than Americans.
    They live longer, work less, have better and less-expensive healthcare, pollute less, and their kids actually get educated.

    They do this with a sane tax scheme.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Dear G.M.

    The current American brand of conservatism that is obsessed with government being ‘the problem’ and counter to civilization is egregiously false, and the consequences have led to our current state where the GOVERNMENT as a set of institutions that are (supposed to be) transparent and democratic -the only set within our society that is I might add- has been gutted to the point of an inability to provide adequate GOVERNANCE.

    This is what happens when people who claim the government is the problem get put in charge of the government.

    The ability for communities to flourish and work together is dependent upon a strong institutional structure, not in spite of it. Taxation demands people commit themselves to owning that structure. Destroying the public sphere is not the answer problems, and only leads to tyranny. Read some Robert Putnam for God’s Sake, sir. Or perhaps Benjamin Barber? How about Thomas Frank?

    All of the intellectual work that points to government being the problem and stifling civilization is speculative and theoretical. When put into practice it’s always catastrophic, as it has been in the United States over the past 30 years.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Sometimes, one needs extra time to figure out what the hell has happened. We have the luxury of doing so, because in America, we can still survive, despite George W. Bush, although the future does look bleak, especially of Herr Giuliani succeeds in George W. Bushing America again. But, let me get to the point. Thinking about the explanations German citizens offered on their personal behaviors during the Hitler regime and WWII, it isn’t a stretch to label our behaviors during the Bush regime as Nazi America. In other words, “What did you do in the war/during the Bush regime, Daddy/Mommy?” Well, child, I wasn’t necessarily afraid that the Bush people would reach out and kill me, but being a disabled Veteran and relying pretty much on the government’s compensation for lost opportunities and MY FUTURE, I was afraid that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Etc. might ‘reach out’ and touch me a la Nizon Enemies List and Reagan’s Illegal War in Central America. Should a disabled Veteran risk his/her life again while SUPREME COWARDS from the Bush regime push buttons, pull levers, make phone calls from the safety of their underground bunkers and disclosed locations, with the full backing of the taxpayers, to discredit and neutralize all criticism and dissent, not to mention political opposition? Yes, fellow American, we are afraid and we have good cause to be afraid. Bush is a full-blown sadist and dry drunk. His WASP mommie and daddy couldn’t care less about you and me, average American citizens, no matter what bullshit spews from their foul, treasonous-terorist mouths. We ARE Nazi America. Really. If you doubt it, and if it’s possible for you to ask a real question and give an honest answer, ask yourself what you have been doing, I mean DOING, not your fingers dancing on a keyboard, about the illegal and criminal attack on our White House and Constitution? It isn’t enough to have gone to Iraq or Afganistan, of course, because people like Max Cleland, John McCain and John Kerry HAVE gone in harm’s way, and look at what spineless PRICKS like the Swift Boat Veterans and the Cowardly Bush regime have done to them and their reputations. We are NOT on the threshold of hell; we are in hell. But don’t ask Bush or any of his cronies and lackeys. They’re too busy counting their money and benefits. Yes, they do kill people for their amusement, and no Congressman should ever apologize for uttering that TRUTH.

  13. James Says:

    “They’ve got health care that’s better than most HMOs.”


    Wow. Did Duncan Hunter really just spout off a talking point from Sicko? What is the world coming to?

  14. Anonymous Says:

    From his pulpit, George W. Bush wants General Musharraf of Pakistan to “take off his military uniform.” Isn’t it ironic that all the problems Bush wants Pakistan to correct in Pakistan exist right here in the USA under the Bush regime. A recent NYT editorial addresses the current Pakistan issue, but pays lip service to the dictatorship in the USA. Traitor and war criminal, Dick Cheney, lurks in the shadows, out of sight, out of mind, as long as he doesn’t come out of his bunker. The problems of the USA reflect the Bush family, in which rampant, long-term denial and coverups allowed George W. to get where he is today. As long as Bush and Cheney remain in office, America is doomed. Don’t you feeel the doom more now than yesterday? While Laura Bush gets her hand kissed, America burns. We created this country and Constitution to prevent a mess like Bush ruining our new country. And here we are. Who else but a total failure and imcompetent could have done this hose job on America?

  15. angelo Says:

    I love it when cult members give up hope on converting you, and simply move on to weaker targets without even addressing your points.

    Ron Paul? whatev.

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