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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Losing the Fight Against Evildoers

I've never been comfortable using the word "evil." It's too simple for what it describes, too cartoonish to be taken seriously. Dracula is evil, the devil is evil, Lex Luthor is evil. In children's stories, evil does evil for the sake of evil. It doesn't make any sense and it doesn't describe anything that happens in the real world. When someone uses the word, it goes straight to the part of my brain that detects ridiculousness. When George W. Bush talks about "evildoers," the first thing I think of is Cesar Romero as "The Joker" on Batman. Evil has become a word to describe either impossible supernatural creatures or absurd criminals who steal diamond encrusted jack-in-the-boxes.

For me, evil is a word to be used sparingly -- the word has already been abused into near meaninglessness, I don't want to further the erosion. As a result, when I do use the word, I'm either using it correctly (about 10% of the time) or as comic hyperbole ("According to Jim is a horrific evil that must be erased from human history").

Now is one of the 10% of times. When I say evil, I mean evil. Because torture is evil. Don't agree with that? How about this? Torturing children is evil. Agreed? How about people who "you could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas" about ways to torture people?

Now that we're all on the same page -- excepting, of course, the deluded and the genuinely evil -- let's look at evil in America today.

Let's look at the Bush administration.

Washington Post:

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly yesterday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce "an extreme effect" calculated to "cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality."

Although the existence of the memo has long been known, its contents had not been previously disclosed.

Interrogators, according to Yoo, would be protected by a "national and international version of the right to self-defense." Of course, this is such crazy BS that you wonder how anyone could make the claim with a straight face. If someone came over to my house and beat me up, I wouldn't then be able to sit around for a while thinking, "That sucked," before kidnapping the guy and torturing him. Claiming the right to self-defense would get you laughed out of court and straight into prison. As it should. I guess there are times when evil really is as ridiculous as the word makes it seem. To bring it back to the reality of evil, it was John Yoo who argued that we have every right to torture children -- including crushing some kid's testicles.

Yoo had this exchange with Human Rights scholar Doug Cassel:

Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?
Yoo: No treaty.
Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

To those who occasionally defend torture in the comments -- defend this.

Of course, I suppose you could argue that this is purely academic, that this is a hypothetical situation that -- while repulsive -- has never happened. That brings up a damned good question; how do you know that?

The Bush administration hasn't exactly been the most transparent in history. And we didn't find out about the abuses at Abu Ghraib until after they'd occurred. You can't say it's never happened. You can't even say it's probably never happened. The best you can logically argue is that you hope it's never happened. If the belief is that it's not illegal, then there's nothing actually stopping it from happening -- other than conscience and shame. Few in the Bush administration have either.

I think history has proven that the Bush administration rules nothing out -- no matter how boneheaded or how cruel. This has been a lawbreaking administration, with no respect for human dignity or the rights of the individual. For them, the Constitution and law are merely impediments to be sidestepped. They exist only to slow down the weak-willed and the less-than-visionary. There's a new neocon world to be built. A New American Century of what amounts to military domination of the globe. Law applies to the menschen, not the ubermenschen. Visionary supermen are the new tomorrow.

Writes Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson:

[The Yoo memo argues] The president is unbound by international law -- ever -- and not constrained by either federal law or the Constitution in his role as commander in chief, which gives him carte blanche authority to have illegal enemy combatants who are detained on foreign soil assaulted, maimed, tortured, and otherwise subjected to war crimes, so long as the president deems it necessary or in “self-defense” of the nation.

I’m literally sick.

As am I. Dickinson's reading of the memo shows that Yoo argues that there are laws that "would conflict with… Commander in Chief power": "assault… maiming… interstate stalking… war crimes… and torture."

And John Yoo's mind is not the only repugnant little slice of hell in all of this. The whole damned administration thinks like this -- and have acted on these beliefs. This has gone beyond the acedemic and theoretical into the realm of the actual and the practical. This reasoning has been applied.

In a very thorough piece in Vanity Fair ("The Green Light: Politics & Power"), Phillippe Sands reveals that these "legal theories" aren't theories at all, but practices that have been applied since 2001.

The Bush administration has always taken refuge behind a “trickle up” explanation: that is, the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground. This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration—by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense. At the heart of the matter stand several political appointees—lawyers—who, it can be argued, broke their ethical codes of conduct and took themselves into a zone of international criminality, where formal investigation is now a very real option. This is the story of how the torture at Guantánamo began, and how it spread.

It's much more expansive than I can comment fully on here -- I advise you to go read it when you have the chance. Suffice it to say that no one gets off easy -- not Alberto Gonzales, not Dick Cheney, not Bush himself. What Sands details are not theories or hypothetical "ticking time bomb" scenarios. What he finds is a direct link between the White House and war crimes. He finds evil.

One last quote and then I'll wrap it up. From a Gitmo interrogation log, relayed by Sands:

Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Dizzy. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Yelled for Allah...

Urinated on himself. Began to cry. Asked God for forgiveness. Cried. Cried. Became violent. Began to cry. Broke down and cried. Began to pray and openly cried. Cried out to Allah several times. Trembled uncontrollably.

Let me remind you that this is done in your name and on your behalf. Is this the very best we can be? Is this the government you want? When the president asserts that he has the legal authority to kick anyone he wants in the nuts, the question isn't who'll protect you from the terrorists, but who'll protect you from the president.

When your government is evil, terrorists are the least of your problems.


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