What dark little wizened raisin of a soul rattles around the bodies of the Bush Administration that they must be dragged kicking and screaming to renounce torture?
It would seem to be a no-brainer in modern times. Sure, even liberal, enlightened states — pardon the oxymoron — once routinely tortured folks. But as the twentieth century aged, only the most repressive regimes continued to do so. Communist Russia and China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Nazi Germany, the African dictatorships — Leviathan there raged unrestrained. But much of the Western world could rejoice that the beast was partly leashed in their countries, that it would probably never beat, burn, mangle nor maim them.
Torture has been one of the state’s favorite tools throughout history. And for good reason: fear is the easiest way to subjugate people, and pain is the easiest way to induce fear. It took humanity long millennia to claw its way up from the miry, ideological pit that allowed some men, called “rulers,” to torture others, dubbed “subjects.” Then came that shining moment when the pit was not only abandoned but filled in and paved over: the United States of America officially banned torture in the Eighth Amendment to its founding document.
Now the Raisin-in-Chief stands grinning near the pit he’s re-opened, eager to shove us back into it.
He cites his usual, transparent excuse of terrorism, as though the country has never before confronted a menace as grave as Al Qaeda nor somehow managed to survive it without torturing. Worse, he and his fellow raisins maintain that torture is the best way to gain information, though mighty few if any of their victims are terrorists and though torture is universally discredited as a means of obtaining reliable information.
Both the Chief and Vice Raisins protested for months against Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz) amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Defense barring “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” abuse of US prisoners. Finally, with the House and Senate showing enough support that the Raisin-in-Chief realized the amendment would withstand his veto, he gritted his teeth and did what he does best: lied. “We’ve been happy to work with [McCain] to achieve a common objective,” he said, using the preposition “with” to mean “against” and the adjective “common” as shorthand for “hell,-nothin’-no-raisin-in-his-right-mind-would-ever-hobble-our-fine-men-and-women-in-uniform-with.” Raisin Bush added that this amendment will “make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention [on] torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” He uttered that last with a straight face, despite the photos from Abu Ghraib beamed around the world and the corpses cluttering the room after CIA “interrogations.”
His lies were preceded by Rice-Raisin’s mincing about Europe the week before while announcing that America’s rulers will continue torturing. Condi is too fluent in Leviathan to come out and say it plain like that, of course. No, she demurred and averred and suggested and promised, using ten words where one would do and jargon instead of truth. She said it all so dispassionately that she could have been discussing the weather rather than the disfigurement of human flesh, the defacement of human souls.
"I think it’s only natural that sometimes we have these discussions," she opined during a press conference at NATO headquarters. "Questions and concerns arise. We should discuss them, we should discuss them in a serious way among friends."
Be nice if she kept the torture among friends, too. Rice and Vice could get together of a Saturday night, dress in leather, crack their whips, and entertain each other while leaving the rest of us alone. “Whoa, Cheney!” she’d coo. “Questions and concerns arising here, friend. Shall we try a little strappadoing, or you want to discuss it in a serious way first? Speaking of strappado, where’s Alberto? He’s never this late.”
But give her credit: she left the raisins plenty of wiggle room. "Will there be abuses of policy?” she asked rhetorically, perhaps intending to waterboard anyone cheeky enough to answer. “That’s entirely possible. Just because you’re a democracy[,] it doesn’t mean that you’re perfect."
Oh, indeed. As though a country must be “perfect” before it prohibits dousing a naked man with cold water and chaining him in a freezing cell.
Ironically, today’s torturers often become tomorrow’s victims. And so we listen to the callous cowardice of this administration with a certain serenity, knowing their time will come. Condi may one day experience those “imperfect,” “entirely possible” “abuses of policy” when President Hillary rounds up her political enemies and, freed by the Raisin Administration’s precedent, orders them cattle-prodded.
Which brings us to the best reason of all for denouncing torture, if one is needed beyond common decency and simple humanity. And that is that no government has ever contented itself with torturing others. Torture is always used primarily against its own citizens. Sooner or later, the hoods and leashes, the beatings, the waterboarding, freezing cells, and racking will be turned against us, the taxpayers, the subjects, the ruled.
Better scream now against American torture, or for sure you’ll be screaming under it.
Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.