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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Torture as a PR Stunt to Win Elections

As the days go by, the White House/GOP compromise on detainees is looking crappier and crappier. The New York Times tells us (emphasis mine):

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

The Washington Post agrees (again, e.m.):

The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes.

I'd call this a deal with the devil, but look what happened to Hugo Chavez when he made that comparison. Besides, when you strike a deal with the devil, you at least seem to get something. It's hard to see what it is that the President has given up here. Congress makes a worse Faust than Faust.

And why should Congress be making deals with this administration, anyway? These guys have screwed this whole 'war on terror' thing up from the git-go. Bush's actions in the middle east have done nothing to reduce terrorism, in fact sixteen US intelligence agencies agree that the Iraq war has "made the overall terrorism problem worse."

The fact is, just about everything this administration has done has made terrorism worse. The L.A. Times reported yesterday that, "Only a quarter of the Iraqi army forces that had been designated more than a month ago to work on security improvements in the capital have arrived, a sign of continuing problems with Iraq's ability to command and move its troops."

The official spin on this is that Baghdad's just too far away for many troops. "Some of these battalions, when they were formed, were formed regionally," we're told. "And some of the soldiers, due to the distance, did not want to travel into Baghdad." How's that for dedication? Good thing the volunteer fire departments don't have the same lack of motivation.

It strikes me as extremely likely that many of these people never planned on fighting -- they just planned on training and learning US tactics. A 75% no-show rate is huge. It's impossible to believe that none of them aren't now fighting in insurgent militias, having been trained on the US dime.

A few days ago, I posted about a retiring CIA director who thought -- as seems to be the consensus in intelligence -- that Iraq was hurting efforts to combat terrorism.

"I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy," Dr. Emile Nakhleh told Harpers Magazine, "There's a civil war in Iraq and our presence is contributing to the violence. We've become a lightning rod—we're not restricting the violence, we're contributing to it. Iraq has galvanized jihadists; our presence is what is attracting them. We need to get out of there. The idea of Iraq being a model for the region has also been tossed out the window. Now the only question is whether Iraq will become a haven for sectarianism, or follow either the Iranian model or the standard Arab authoritarian model. It's only three years old, but the once-touted model of a secular, democratic Iraq is all but forgotten. This casts a dark shadow on American efforts to spread democracy in the region."

To get back to torture and detainees, if Iraq's making terrorism worse, what do you think secret prisons, detention without charges, and torture is doing? "Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness and the rule of law, and that's the heart of the American idea," Nakhleh tells us. "That's very serious, and that's where I see the danger in the years ahead."

If this is the Bush administration's track record on terrorism, why the hell would you want to give them more tools? Take the hammer away from the demolition man and give it to the carpenter.

Look at where we've been led. We're at a point in Iraq where we're just another militia -- worse, the one militia all the others see as the enemy. We have no clear strategy. We don't even have a clearly defined goal -- what would 'victory' be at this point? Certainly not the pie-in-the-sky Utopia that the neocons envisioned when they started this mess. It's a good question; what would a 'win' look like? I have no idea. Does anyone?

Likewise this 'war on terror'. What constitutes a win there -- no more terrorists? That's about as likely as a repeal of the laws of physics. All of this torture and human rights abuse; where is it all leading and what strategy does it serve?

Screw asking about a strategy in Iraq, at this point it's clear there isn't one and that no one planned for any other outcome than the completely unrealistic scenario Dick Cheney summed up before the war when he said he believed we'd be welcomed as liberators. These neocons want to be seen as hardheaded realists, but they've been proven to be nothing more than a bunch of utopian dreamers. So why on Earth should we believe that they have some strategy to fight terrorism? All of these secret prisons and kidnappings and wars and scandals have been no more effective than all of the mad scrambling we've been doing in Iraq. In the end, it's all been as useless as it has been meaningless.

We don't have leadership. What we have is a rudderless ship with a crew at the helm pretending the wheel still works. The only point to any of this anymore is political -- it doesn't make any difference whether or not it's effective. What matters is that they convince enough people that the ship is on course. If enough people believe, then the idiot crew gets to stay at the useless helm. Don't fix the policy, fix the perception. Policy only has to look effective, it doesn't have to actually accomplish anything.

Which, of course, is why it hasn't accomplished anything. And the more obvious this lack of accomplishment becomes, the more desperate these fools get. They constantly up the ante to get 'tougher on terrorism'. We're told that if we'd been able to torture this guy or wiretap that guy without a warrant, 9/11 would never have happened.

But that's a really lousy argument. If everyone in America had been in lockdown at maximum security prisons on 9/10, then 9/11 would never have happened. If that's the only yardstick you use to measure success, then anything's permissible.

Which is why that's the yardstick they choose to use. It doesn't make any difference whether or not a policy's logical. If they can convince enough people that it works, they can stay in power -- regardless of whether it really does work.

So now, the nation that's always prided itself on valuing the individual tortures. The nation that fought for justice imprisons without trial. We wage war to win elections and ignore our own Constitution when it suits us.

After all this time, what do we have to show for our efforts? A hole in the federal deficit a mile wide, an almost complete retreat from our principles, war without any purpose, and the Constitution treated as an impediment.

In other words, not a damned thing worth having.


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