The Devil's Dictionary

The Republicans have become adept at redefining words to suit their purposes, relabeling people and events, shuffling people around to slip out from under inconvenient words or laws, or simply inventing new phrases to suit their purposes.

For example, the Bush administration people say that the prisoners they’ve captured in the so-called "War on Terror" can be treated any way the U.S. military chooses – including ways that international law would define as torture. The Bushies say the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to these captives because they aren’t prisoners of war, they’re "enemy combatants."

Yes, but what about U.S. laws prohibiting the government from using torture on anyone? Well, they’ve slipped out from under that restriction as well. They say that U.S. criminal laws don't apply because the prisoners are not on American soil – they're in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo, where U.S. laws obviously have no authority.

So all you have to do is invent new labels or move people around – and the laws don’t apply.

These "War on Terror" linguistic techniques are inspiring similar tactics elsewhere. As you may have heard, the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." You might gather from this that Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech. But Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) is pushing legislation to restrict what cable TV channels can show on their networks. Senator Stevens says this isn’t "censorship" (which, of course, would be unconstitutional), it’s simply establishing a "standard of decency."

Pretty soon they could start passing legislation that would imprison you for criticizing the administration, praying, sweating, having sex, doing crossword puzzles, leaving your home after 7pm, or maybe even watching anything other than Fox TV News.

If anyone complains that such laws are unconstitutional, they’ll simply tell you that these aren’t laws; they’re "directives," and so they’re not bound by the Constitution.

March 14, 2005