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Be Careful What You Wish For May 20, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in CIA, Iraq War, National Politics, Politics, Torture.
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As a story that just will not die, the CIA-Nancy Pelosi torture memo debate fascinates me.  This latest Republican “look over here” tactic regarding the Bush Administration war crimes is breathtaking in its ballsy-ness.  What nobody is talking about is that the GOP seems to be saying, “OK, our guys tortured people.  But Nancy Pelosi – a DEMOCRAT – knew about it.”  It also amazes me that most of the media – who should be digging a little deeper here – are so in the tank for the Republican talking points (God, we need a Woodward and Bernstein!).

The latest to step into the fray is the ethically-challenged ex-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich told ABC’s “Good Morning America” today that Pelosi should resign.  

“She really disqualified herself to be the speaker,” Gingrich said. “She has a unique responsibility for national security. … She made this allegation that smears everyone whose trying to defend her.”

Leaving her in her place would be “very dangerous for the country,” Gingrich added.

This faux indignation on the part of Republicans that somebody would actually accuse the CIA of lying is laughable.  Of course they lie – they’re spies.  Doesn’t anyone remember Iran-Contra, Iraq had WMDs, or that Iraq was seeking yellowcake from Niger?  The Republicans themselves initiated an investigation (that is ongoing) into the CIA lying to Congress over providing intelligence that got a civilian jet carrying an American woman and her child killed.  The CIA’s own Inspector General reported that the agency obstructed justice and repeatedly lied to Congress and the White House.  The leader of this investigation is GOP congressman Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and one of the loudest voices calling for Pelosi’s head.

What’s more, facts in the briefing records are being repeatedly questioned.  Rep. Hoekstra has asked CIA Director Leon Panetta – who released the briefing records with the caveat that they may be incorrect or incomplete – to review the facts presented in the records.  Wisconsin Democrat David Obey has joined Senators Rockefeller and Graham in pointing out that while the briefing records say an Appropriations committee aide attended briefings, he was actually turned away because his clearance level was not high enough.  There is no record who gave seven of the briefings nor is there any indication when Senator John McCain was briefed except for “October 2005”.  The record also shows that Congressman Porter Goss was briefed on March 8, 2005 when he was no longer a Congressman but was, in fact, Director of the CIA.  In a final bit of obfuscation, the briefing record references the term “EIT” as far back as 2002 when it was not coined until 2006.

Jack Rice, former CIA agent and current radio host, told Keith Olbermann on “Countdown” last night that controversy will “drive the agency to react” and to say things that may or may not be true.  Isn’t that lying?

What is true is that whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding or not, the United States of America tortured individuals in our custody.  What is becoming clearer is that those individuals were not tortured because they presented a clear and present danger to the United States, but because the psychotic ex-Vice President was desperately looking for a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.  What is true is that we need to know what was done in our names and by whom.  And if that also means Nancy Pelosi did something illegal, she should be prosecuted and tried with the rest of them.

 One has to wonder what the Republican’s goals are in the current controversy.  There have been several theories, from keeping terrorism in the public’s mind (and – ergo – their “better” ability to handle it) to the simple embarrassment of a major Democratic political figure.  Whatever the motivation, it seems to me that the Republicans better be careful about kicking these political rocks over.  After all, the slugs that would be exposed by such an action are probably mostly Republicans.

Be careful what you wish for, GOP!


Tortured Republican Relativism May 15, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Dick Cheney, National Politics, Republicans, Torture.
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TortureRackBefore Niagara Falls, Ontario, built its rather fabulous casinos – a person visiting there was limited in his entertainment choices after taking in the waterfall.  A must-see became the chotchkey wax museums, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, and the trashy souvenir stores along Clifton Hill.  Stretching about a mile and a half up from the falls, Clifton Hill was (and still is) a paradise of the weird, wild, and gruesome.

One of my favorite Clifton Hill attractions was the Medieval Torture Room exhibit at Ripley’s.  There, several implements used to torture human beings are on display along with descriptions of how they were used.  What I find fascinating is not only that  these things were used, but that actual people sat down and invented these things – items used only to “break” or cause pain to other human beings.   The inhumanity of it all leaves one breathless. 

Torture was accepted in the middle ages as de riguer; that is, it was the way that princes and kings, armies and churches, got their information.  Sometimes they got it right, often times they got it wrong, but at all times it was the way of doing business.

A popular form of torture was The Rack (pictured here).  The implement was breathtaking in its simplicity and unparallelled in its ability to cause great amounts of pain without death.  A person to be tortured was placed spread-eagle on the frame, his arms and legs tied to rollers at either end.  As his inquisitor asked him questions, the slack from the ropes was slowly rolled in, causing mild discomfort at first, but finally ending in the poor bastard’s arms and kegs being pulled from their sockets.  The tortured could end it his pain at any time by just giving the inquisitor the answer he wanted to hear.   A few times things went wrong when an over-zealous torturer would actually pull the prisoner’s arms and legs clean-off, but mostly it was effective in just causing excruciating pain. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Rack these days as we discuss the waterboarding of Arab detainees in U.S. custody.  There are some that will argue that waterboarding – or simulated drowning – is not torture.  To me, use of the waterboard is no different than use of the rack.  Neither one will actually kill you – unless it is not done properly – but they both are designed to instill fear and pain (and if there’s anyone who doesn’t think there’s pain associated with drowning, he’s a fool).   We Americans recognized waterboarding as torture and a crime when we prosecuted and convicted Japanese soldiers after World War II for doing it.  Yet we are treated to almost daily defenses of the procedure – along with others – by the neo-con nuts that brought us the Iraq War. 

The latest defenders of American torture are former Vice-President Dick Cheney and his daughter Lynn.  The Cheney family torture tour seeks to absolve the Price of Darkness of any culpability in waterboarding prisoners of war and the overall torture and abuse of said prisoners.  Cheney’s defense of the former administration’s actions is two-fold; first, it led to actionable intelligence that thwarted terrorist attacks and kept the U.S. safe, and second, that there were legal opinions supporting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and were, therefore, permissable.

This is the worst sort of moral relativism – the sort used only when it serves an individual purpose.  In most cases, things are either right or they are wrong.  These ideals are based upon values we – as a society – have shared for thousands of years.  To faithful Christians, these absolutes are natural law – passed down from God himself.  Christians use moral absolutes to argue against issues that are really important to them like abortion and gay rights.  They will shake a finger at those of us that are less fundamentalist or absolutist and will say that “killing the innocent is ALWAYS wrong”, except if they’re Iraqi civilians at a wedding reception.  Then it’s “regrettable, but the price of war.”   They will “tsk-tsk” those of us that support gay marriage and will pass laws because “homosexuality is against God’s law”, except if it’s one of their mega-church ministers that’s the gay person.  Then it’s “sad”, but they pray for his recovery – all the while kicking him out of his church, his home, and even his state of residence.   That the Republicans should employ this sort of relativism to torture is not really a surprise – but it is stunning nonetheless. 

I never thought I’d ever see an American justify torture.  Ever.