Because We Can

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Bush Administration, conservatism

A.S. Hamrah says some true things in today’s Los Angeles Times (emphasis added).

Right before his recent colonoscopy, Bush announced that he had issued an executive order banning cruel and inhumane treatment in interrogations of suspected terrorists. This clarified interrogation guidelines he had issued last fall banning techniques that “shock the conscience.” While the guidelines appear to be a step toward more concrete protection of human rights, the administration’s constant rejiggering of the border between interrogation and torture reveals something else: a Sadean interest in the refinement of torture, a desire to define what is and is not “beyond the bounds of human decency,” as the order puts it.

The claim that there is an element of sexual perversity in the government’s interest in prisoner abuse may seem broad, but consider how officials discuss it. And when it comes to pictures documenting torture, they react in ways that should be as interesting to psychoanalysts as they are to constitutional lawyers, civil libertarians or investigative reporters.

A lot of us have thought this, but it’s nice to see it in the pages of a major newspaper.

Tenet’s reference to voyeurism — which the dictionary defines as “the practice of obtaining sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts, especially secretly” — would seem to imply that these unmentionable techniques are sexual in nature and therefore inappropriate. But Tenet can never know if that’s the case because he, not being a voyeur, claims never to have seen them. So why bring up voyeurism at all?

A quote from an unidentified lieutenant general in Seymour Hersh’s article, “The General’s Report,” in the June 25 issue of the New Yorker exposes a similar unwillingness to confront scenes of torture. “I don’t want to get involved by looking” at photographs and videos of torture, the officer told Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba during the torture investigation at Abu Ghraib, “because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”

When babies cover their eyes, they assume the world has disappeared because they can’t see it; they think they’re invisible too and that the world can’t see them. Donald Rumsfeld, in Hersh’s article, comes off like an innocent child rubbing his eyes and waking in a world he never made. “My God! Did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head and telling him all his buddies knew he was a homosexual?” asks the former Defense secretary. Heck, was it all just a dream?

Sometimes I do want to smack people and tell them to wake up. See also last week’s post by moonbat, “Be Here Now.”

Maybe the reason members of the Bush administration are reluctant to look at evidence of torture is that if they did, they would be forced to admit that, for them, what happened at Abu Ghraib really wasn’t torture. For them, evidently, it was sex, and that’s why they won’t watch.

It’s not like government officials have never come right out and said that. In 2004, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) bridged the gap between the painful and the erotic by dismissing the Abu Ghraib abuses as a mere “sex ring”: “I’ve seen what happened at Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was not torture. It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops who were involved in a sex ring.” When asked to clarify, Shays backtracked and dug himself in deeper at the same time. “It was torture because sexual abuse is torture

This is more about pornography than torture.”

About a month ago some news stories alleged that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was “overzealous” about the death penalty. Paul K. Charlton, one of nine U.S. attorneys fired last year, told Congress that Gonzales pushed U.S. attorneys to execute people. Amy Goldstein wrote for the Washington Post:

Charlton testified yesterday that Gonzales has been so eager to expand the use of capital punishment that the attorney general has been inattentive to the quality of evidence in some cases — or the views of the prosecutors most familiar with them. …

…Justice Department data presented at the hearing demonstrated that the administration’s death penalty dispute with Charlton was not unique. The Bush administration has so far overruled prosecutors’ recommendations against its use more frequently than the Clinton administration did. The pace of overrulings picked up under Gonzales’s predecessor, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and spiked in 2006, when the number of times Gonzales ordered prosecutors to seek the death penalty against their advice jumped to 21, from three in 2005.

Goldstein described a particular case:

According to Charlton, the case on which he clashed with Gonzales involved a methamphetamine dealer named Jose Rios Rico, who was charged with slaying his drug supplier. Charlton said he believed the case, which has not yet gone to trial, did not warrant the death penalty because police and prosecutors lacked forensic evidence — including a gun, DNA or the victim’s body. He said that the body was evidently buried in a landfill and that he asked Justice Department officials to pay $500,000 to $1 million for its exhumation.

The department refused, Charlton said. And without such evidence, he testified, the risk of putting the wrong person to death was too high.

Charlton said that in prior cases, Ashcroft’s aides had given him the chance to discuss his recommendations against the death penalty, but that Gonzales’s staff did not offer that opportunity. He instead received a letter, dated May 31, 2006, from Gonzales, simply directing him to seek the death penalty.

Charlton testified that he asked Justice officials to reconsider and had what he called a “memorable” conversation with Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty. Michael J. Elston, then McNulty’s chief of staff, called Charlton to relay that the deputy had spent “a significant amount of time on this issue with the attorney general, perhaps as much as five to 10 minutes,” and that Gonzales had not changed his mind. Charlton said he then asked to speak directly with Gonzales and was denied.

Last August, D. Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales’s chief of staff, sent Elston a dismissive e-mail about the episode that said: “In the ‘you won’t believe this category,’ Paul Charlton would like a few minutes of the AG’s time.” The next month, Charlton’s name appeared on a list of prosecutors who should be fired, which Sampson sent to the White House.

Gonzales was Bush’s legal counsel and Texas secretary of state while Bush was governor of Texas. In that capacity he provided summaries of death penalty cases when the condemned sought clemency from the governor. According to Alan Berlow in the August 2003 Atlantic Monthly, Bush and Gonzales were both shockingly casual about putting people to death, even in cases where the evidence was weak. Typically, Gonzales would provide Bush with a highly truncated, one-sided memo on the facts of the case, usually on the day of the execution, and Bush would spend no more than thirty minutes reading the memo and making the decision to deny clemency.

It’s possible Bush and Gonzales avoided getting into the details of death penalty cases because they found them distasteful. But the Charlton testimony says something else entirely. At the very least, somebody’s on a power trip. Let’s execute people because we can. D. Kyle Sampson and others in the Justice Department showed a similar attitude toward firing U.S. attorneys — let’s fire somebody because we can.

Torture, death, sex, power. Like those things never go together, huh?

No end of experts in such matters have testified that torture is not a good way to extract usable information from people. Yet the White House won’t let go of it. One might think they’re more interested in the torture than in the information. Let’s torture people because we can.

I’m opposed to the death penalty on principle. But it’s one thing, IMO, to advocate the death penalty as “justice” when there is ironclad evidence — including DNA — that the condemned committed a cold-blooded, first-degree murder. It’s something else entirely for Gonzales to go out of his way to push for the death penalty in a weak case, and then fire the attorney who doesn’t comply. That’s not justice; that’s blood thirst.

But then, I think the whole bleeping administration belongs in a bell jar in the Mental Pathology Hall of Fame.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. moonbat  •  Jul 30, 2007 @4:37 pm

    Someday, if our country survives, someone is going to become famous by doing the definitive analysis of these people, and by extension the entire far right. It could well come from a traditional conservative like John Dean or Kevin Phillips.

    I sense that the sickness of the cabal, their henchmen, and those who put them into power, has been oozing out over the country/the world like puss from a wound that refuses to heal because it has not been acknowledged or treated. The magnitude of this sickness has gotten so bad that it can no longer be ignored or hushed away. Even the mainstream publications are starting to talk about it.

    We have this analysis already in dribs and drabs, from Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians, to Bush on the Couch and many others.

    One can only imagine the kinds of abuse these people were subjected to, given the unfeeling or even enthusiastic way they abuse/torture others. It’s good that this topic is beginning to appear in the mainstream news. It’s sad that so few in this country are shocked or care, let alone those who share in this pathology and believe “it’s how the world is”. For the leaders are but an expression of this aspect of the collective psyche of the country.

    I daresay there are also demonic influences at work as well, but that’s Another Subject (adjusting tin foil hat for maximum reception).

  2. Bonnie  •  Jul 30, 2007 @5:46 pm

    The people who have the power to take action against these lying, criminal perverts don’t seem to care enough about the country to “do the right thing.” All of this is too little, too late. It would have been nice to see these scumbags pay for their crimes; but, no one seems to think that is important. The rule of law is dead; and, the United States Constitution is dying a very painful and sad death.

  3. Longhairedweirdo  •  Jul 30, 2007 @7:37 pm

    It’s interesting… somewhere in here there’s an article of faith among them that something – call it viciousness – is the root of power.

    If you’re vicious towards accused murderers, you have power to prevent crime. If you’re vicious towards suspected dangerous folks, you have the power to prevent attack. Softer methods Just Don’t Work… Everybody Knows That.

    Who was it who had a pointer towards a “proud to be partisan” posting? You, or someone else? This is one of those times when one should be proudly partisan, glad to fight back against a damnfool idea.

  4. the talking dog  •  Jul 30, 2007 @7:58 pm

    Once you’ve reduced human beings to the status of “the other”, i.e., not worthy of consideration as human beings, be they (overwhelmingly Black and Latino and almost invariably poor) convicted criminals in Texas, or (invariably swarthy and always Muslim) accused (though never EVER proven) terrorists in the “global and sacred war on terror”, it’s really not so hard to torture, or to execute, or to abuse… or hell, not to think much about them all, because, hey, it’s not as if they are People, now, is it?

    And if you’re Al Gonzales, the fact that you yourself started in humble circumstances is no reason not to serve The Man… Al has made his career, after all, by not asking too many any questions.

  5. Swami  •  Jul 30, 2007 @8:32 pm

    I would guess that if you’re searching for the bounds of human decency it would be a safe assumption to figure that your starting point is already out of bounds. The bounds of decency aren’t fixed,they are ever shifting according to justification, so Bush isn’t going to find those precious boundaries except in his own sick mind. And as we have seen with the hypothetical ticking bomb senario/justification that has been endorsed by the whole line-up of GOP presidential contenders..there are no boundaries for human decency in the current political arena. Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani ?

    All that my power allows me.. is to speak out against torture and the fear that fosters it. It’s wrong, and it’s wrong for America.

  6. joanr16  •  Jul 30, 2007 @9:21 pm

    This psychopathology defines our society right now….

    In entertainment: the mainstreaming of torture-porn films, hate as comedy, 24 as the righties’ Monday-night wanking hour.

    In government: child pornographers like Scooter Libby in positions of importance within the administration.

    In sports: dogfighting as a cool pastime among the rich and sadistic.

    Feel free to add your own examples.

    I’ve always believed that the POTUS sets the moral and intellectual tone for the nation. We were inquisitive and energetic in the 1990s, watching comets smack into Jupiter and rovers explore Mars. Now we watch Lindsay Lohan’s forehead smack the pavement once a week. How ironic that Clinton had the reputation as a sleazebag. He’s a saint compared to the vile perversity of the Bush crowd.

  7. Swami  •  Jul 30, 2007 @9:54 pm

    joanr16..What’s with the kiddie porn and Scooter Libby? I’ve never heard anything of that nature about Scooter.. The only one I can recall who had an appetite for veal was Mark Foley..I think he was raptured because he doesn’t seem to be on the face of the planet any more.

  8. britwit  •  Jul 31, 2007 @12:09 am

    Swami-I’m with you as I haven’t heard that about Scooter either.

    Mark Foley – WOW – you are so correct – sounds like a name from the past!

  9. ken melvin  •  Jul 31, 2007 @12:33 am

    Tres bien.

  10. maha  •  Jul 31, 2007 @6:26 am

    I think Joan is referring to a novel Scooter published some time back.

    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/11/07/051107ta_talk_collins

  11. joanr16  •  Jul 31, 2007 @1:18 pm

    Barbara is correct. I won’t go into the details, but Libby’s novel involved under-12 female prostitutes. I needed to shower with a wire brush after reading only a synopsis.

    So you see, these people are sicker than we think.

  12. whig  •  Jul 31, 2007 @1:42 pm

    I’m with moonbat. This is part of the waking psyche, a psychopathy that has been with us for a long time and is coming to the fore, in order for us to have the ability to see it clearly for what it is and deal with it appropriately.



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