“For drugs or procedures to rise to the level of ‘disrupting profoundly the senses or personality’ they must produce an extreme effect. And by requiring that they be calculated to produce such an effect, the statute [US Law] requires for liability [that] the defendant has consciously designed the acts to produce such an effect”.
US Department of Justice advice to the White House, August 1, 2002, concerning “Standards of Conduct for Interrogation”
So it is the declared opinion of the US Justice Department that perpetrators of drug-induced, mind-bending torture and unspecified ‘procedures’ are not guilty of law-breaking if they say they didn’t mean it. And it is impossible to prove that they might have meant it. That’s the way things are in Washington, these days.
In one of the Wizard of Id cartoon strips the Wizard and a peasant are looking at the retreating view of an obviously sleazy slob. The peasant asks “Who was that?” and the Wizard tells him that it was Larsen E Pettifogger, the King’s lawyer. “Ah,” says the peasant, “in what area of the law does Mr Pettifogger specialize?”, to which the Wiz replies : “The gray area.” And there are lots of gray areas in pettifogging Bush Washington, especially where torture and truth are concerned. To the rest of us these would be black or white, moral or immoral, bad or good, right or wrong ; but the White House has different standards.
Hardly a week passes in which there is not another major revelation of Bush administration deceit concerning its assaults on some facet of human dignity, at home or abroad. But the Bush machine remains resolutely aloof from ongoing exposure of its astonishing lies.
Even some formerly tub-thumping, war-supporting, mainstream US newspapers are now plucking up courage and are publishing material that in most European countries would lead to grave consequences for those in government. But in Bush Washington there is no fear of retribution. It is firmly believed that Bush will be elected in November. The combined influence of deeply-rooted respect for the Office of the President and reluctance to be thought of as disparaging the Military in any way are considered to be decisive factors. The atrocities in Iraq will be forgotten, and US casualties will decline, because orders have been given to avoid conflict as much as practicable. (That’s what Iraqisation is all about; forget the nonsense about sovereignty.)
There is no longer any question of US troops being ordered to kill the extremist militant Shia commander, Muqtada al-Sadr (and he really is a nasty bastard), which is somewhat confusing. After all, the commander of occupation forces in Iraq, Lt-General Ricardo Sanchez, said on April 12 (CBC News) that “The mission of US forcesis to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr . . . That is our mission.”
Many people are of the opinion that Sanchez was grossly over-promotedwhen he was made a major, but the fact remains he was speaking with the voice of the commander-in-chief when he told his troops that their mission was to kill or capture al-Sadr. He was speaking to the world when he declared publicly that this was the mission he had given to his troops. He now looks a pusillanimous fool in the eyes of his own soldiers, because he has failed to confirm their Mission or to explain why it hasbeen abandoned. “Kill or capture” is, after all, a precise command, and sudden reversal of such a major and much-publicized objective must have a sound political or military reason behind it. Well . . . up to a point ; because it is obvious that if Sanchez had proceeded with his off-the-cuff Mission there would have been hundreds of US casualties in direct fighting at the time and many more, later, when the entire Shia population rose even more ferociously against the occupiers, following the death or capture of al-Sadr. This would not have played well in Peoria, or anywhere else that Bush is standing for election.
This humiliating policy reversal is but one of the consequences of the present administration’s lack of ability to see the world through any eyes but their own. The US has been taken over and is being ruled by a coterie of zealots whose ferocious obsession with power has almost destroyed America’s international credibility while deliberately polarizing the nation through exercising a policy of vicious and antagonistic confrontation. ‘You are with us or against us’ has become the mantra of Bush loyalists, who mistake lickspittle political fealty for genuine patriotism.
The current American Presidency has taken unto itself the role of undemocratic monarchy, while its macabre riffraff of courtiers, advisers and manipulators wield and relish power for which they do not have to account to the representatives of the people. The privileges and autocracy enjoyed by supreme monarchs centuries ago have their life and being in the Bush White House, and are fashioned by those whom Macaulay wrote of as “zealots for the doctrine of divine right”.
In his History of England Macaulay described the Divine Right of Kings as requiring that “no human power. . . could deprive the legitimate prince of his rights; that his authority was necessarily always despotic; that the laws by which . . . the prerogative was limited were to be regarded merely as concessions which the sovereign had freely made and might at his pleasure resume ; and that any treaty into which a king might enter with his people was merely a declaration of his present intentions, and not a contract of which the performance could be demanded . . . this theory, though intended to strengthen the foundations of government, altogether unsettles them.”
Many elected representatives of the people of the United States are being used and manipulated by the imperial presidency to provide support from their positions in the very foundations of government. Those on the Bush side of the political spectrum (you are with us or against us) are regarded as a convenience to be employed or discarded as whim might dictate. Their abject slavishness is pathetic. But their colleagues of different political complexion, who express opinions at variance with those of the ideologues, are reviled, attacked or contemptuously dismissed, as ordered by obnoxious political tricksters whose dedication is to survival of the president in office and not to the American people.
Sometimes there is bipartisan activity on the part of the White House. As when its Attorney General, Ashcroft, contemptuously refused to provide information to the country’s legislators, both Democrat and Republican. Ashcroft did not just rebuff and defy Democrats : he publicly scorned Republicans when he appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 8. But loyalty to Bush, if you are a Republican representative of the people, demands no more nor less than that you embrace humiliation in the cause of the greater good, which is to have Bush elected in November. All else : all probity, all decency, humanity, independent-mindedness and, alas, integrity, must be subordinated to the Divine Right of Bush. It is imperative he be told what he wants to hear. Those Republicans who dared disagree with the fundamentalist ideology of the Bush administration have long since been forced out of positions of influence.
The recent weird ‘Memorandum for Alberto R Gonzales, Counsel to the President, on the Standards of Conduct for Interrogation’ from the Department of Justice has been analyzed by many wise authorities, and it would be pointless to make much further comment other than to observe that only a soulless robot, an amoral unthinking machine in human shape, could coldly decide that “Because the acts inflicting torture are extreme, there is significant range of acts that though they might constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, fail to rise to the level of torture.”
The people who composed that advice for the President of the United States are the devil’s spawn who have not a compassionate brain cell between them. But they exemplify the ethos of grubby, pettifogging Bush Washington. If you need a lawyer to explain to you what constitutes torture, you are terminally benighted and should be limited in daily decision-making to choice of sock color. And if you are a lawyer who is happy to provide comfortable, relaxing, legal-Muzak advice about what constitutes torture, you are suffering from profound disruption of the senses and are in urgent need of care.
But the memos roll in, the memos roll out, and we are fortunate that at least some of the bizarre and intellectually corrupt papers produced by morally defective goblins have been revealed to us by people in official Washington who still have functioning consciences. Every time a leaked memorandum appears there are attempts at damage control, of course ; but these are becoming increasingly divorced from reality. It is as if the Bush administration has its existence in a separate world ; one in which facts are flexible and where declared beliefs cannot be questioned, no matter what evidence is provided to establish truth. Facts, for the Bush devotees, are what the people can be made to believe.
The insouciant acknowledgement by Rumsfeld that he acted illegally in every aspect of law by ordering concealment of an Iraqi prisoner from the Red Cross has caused scarcely a ripple of condemnation, and none is expected. Why bother? It is the divine right of Washington to rule. As the New York Times observed on June 17 : “Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the Army officer who in February investigated abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, criticized the practice of allowing ghost detainees there and at other detention centers as ‘deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law’.” But nothing will happen, because Rumsfeld is above the law.
Further, it is deeply disturbing that there was no consideration given to establishment of precedent. (Where were all the clever lawyers, one wonders?) When, in future wars (and if Bush stays in power, there will be some of these), a US soldier vanishes after being taken prisoner, what then? What possible condemnation can there be by the US, now, of those who spirited him (or her) away from the keep-them-honest, humane scrutiny of the Red Cross? The United States of America, by the illegal actions of its Secretary of State for Defense, has forfeited the right to international, neutral, protection for its prisoners of war. Does nobody in the administration care that this is a development of immense significance for future generations of American citizens and the world at large?
The recent poll of Iraqis indicating their belief that “all Americans behave like the military prison guards” shown in the Abu Ghraib torture photographs, and recording their entire dissatisfaction with the occupying power was concealed from the US public. It was then leaked ; but there has been no official acknowledgement that the results of the poll, which was undertaken at the order of Bremer and his people, might actually be food for thought. The Bush administration doesn’t care about public opinion in Iraq or anywhere else, because it imagines that everything will blow over by November. The zealots are suffering from profound disruption of the senses, and consider it is their divine right to rule, no matter what the consequences of their bungling might be.
There is one matter, however, that might not go away, if only because it has arisen in a more emotional context : that of the 9/11 Commission’s report. The fact that the panel found no connection between Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda and 9/11 is being contradicted in a preposterous fashion by the Bush machine, but this time the zealots might not get away with bluff, bluster, smears and lies.
It is vital for Bush’s election that the American population should continue to believe the myth about the al-Qaeda connection, because after the WMD bubble was pricked, there was no other possible justification for going to war on Iraq. As The Guardian (UK) put it on June 18 : “The administration’s obstructive attitude to the fact-finding efforts of the commission, which it only set up reluctantly, under pressure from the families of September 11 victims, is hardly surprising. Mr Bush has a vested interest in keeping the American public confused. Most US soldiers in Iraq believe they are fighting the enemy which attacked the twin towers, and this belief may account for some of their abusive behavior; a Harris poll in late April found that 49% of Americans at home believe there is ‘clear evidence’ of Iraqi support for al-Qaida.”
That says it all. But the White House spokesman declared “We stand by what was said publicly” by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and the rest of them concerning non-existent bonds between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He had to say that black was white. They all have to pack together to deny the truth, otherwise the Bush presidency will collapse. It is now imperative for Bush that the plainest facts be rejected, if they are inconvenient for the political agenda.
There is profound disruption of the senses in the Washington of Bush, and the situation becomes more depressing day by day. The divine right to rule continues to be assumed, and the American people continue to be deceived. Even if Bush is voted out in November (and this is by no means certain), it will take years to re-establish international trust in US policies and decisions. It is a bleak future, but the American people have overcome disasters before, and surely they will do it again.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com