Because We Can

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.