“I’m aware of the Amnesty International report, and it’s absurd. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world [We have] investigated every single complaint against [sic] the detainees It seemed like [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word and allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people had been trained in some instances to disassemble [sic] that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.”
President George W. Bush, press conference, May 31
“For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously. Frankly, I was offended by it. I think the fact of the matter is, the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world [I]f you trace [abuse allegations] back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who has been inside and been released to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.”
Vice President Dick Cheney, May 30 CNN interview with Larry King
Those of us in the reality-based community are not inclined to dismiss an Amnesty International report out of hand. I myself am sometimes disappointed with AI, especially when they accuse certain organizations I respect of human rights violations on a par with those of the governments they seek to topple. I think it necessary to distinguish between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor. One is “political” whether one so distinguishes or not, and AI’s politics tends towards the legitimatization of state power over the right to rebel. In any case, the organization does a lot of good work, and I support for example the programs they maintain in our high schools. Only fools would call their reports “absurd,” not to be taken seriously.
But here you have the president and vice president of the United States dissing AI big time, arguing in effect that
(a) the U.S. is the biggest liberator of human beings ever, and that therefore ipso facto
(b) it can’t possibly have tortured abused and humiliated prisoners from Guantanamo to Afghanistan. Isn’t it simple and obvious? And
(c): those making charges are freed detainees, who hate America, and
(d) they have been trained to “disassemble,” which preacher man Bush tells us means to lie.
Actually, those in the reality-based community know that “disassemble” means to take something apart, which I am doing now as we speak. The president meant “dissemble,” as in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-tale Heart.“:
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
“Dissemble” means to put on a false appearance. In Poe’s story, the madman thinks the police officers visiting his apartment know that he’s murdered his landlord and deposited the body under the floor planks. He sees their quiet chitchat as a provocation. Actually the cops in the story seem perfectly honest and straightforward, but the murderer haunted by guilt imagines that they must be out to get him.
Bush and Cheney see the released detainees as men out to attack America and themselves and to dissemble in order to achieve that purpose. It’s madness, of course. The International Red Cross concluded many months ago that most detainees in Iraq were innocent people mistakenly imprisoned. (“Absurd!” some will say. The U.S. is a country that promotes freedom, so that can’t be right, right? Just can’t be. America! Good people.) People who report after their release that they were beat up, tortured, mocked for their religion and sexually humiliated while in U.S. custody are probably not dissembling. But those whose very release presumably confirms their innocence, even if the government justifies their earlier confinement on the grounds they might have produced some information servicing U.S. goals, in the madmen’s tortured minds have to be lying about their confinement. But these people should ask themselves: “Haven’t any released detainees spoken well of the fairness and humanity of their captors?”
No? No happy campers? Nobody saying, “Well, I was picked up by mistake, because my name sounds like this other guy’s name, but I was well-treated and freed expeditiously after the matter was cleared up”? Nobody? They’re all hostile and bummed out about what happened to them in detention? Well, there’s a whole lot of anti-Americanism out there in this unfriendly world of Muslims and French and German and Chinese and other foreign people. Lots of reasons for them to make stuff up just to make us look bad—because we’re trying to bring freedom and democracy to their people.
And for Amnesty to peddle these people’s lies well, “What villains!” shriek the world’s maddest murderers, tearing up and disassembling the planks of international order and revealing exactly who they are. Deconstructing their dissembling is fairly easy, for those of us on this side of reality. For those on the other side, such dissembling is God’s truth. “And so it was an absurd report,” their president assures them, closing discussion with the smugly pontifical, “It just is.”
It all depends on what is is. The madman’s is is a product of his imagination, ours an ontology of discernible reality in which U.S. imperialism seeks to conquer and dominate Southwest Asia using bald-faced lies, fascistic brainless nationalism, religious intolerance and racism at every step. The madman’s dismissal of Amnesty’s report is an appeal to the Bush base to more thoroughly fortress its bovine mind against questions and criticisms. America—Freedom. America-haters—Liars, Disassemblers.
William Schultz, head of Amnesty’s U.S. section responds that it is “worth noting that this administration never finds it ‘absurd’ when we criticize Cuba or China, or when we condemned the violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.” Indeed U.S. administrations routinely reference AI reports when they want to attack some foreign foe. But the fascistic epistemology current in ruling circles dictates that truth cannot negatively affect the USA. Facts and intelligence must be fixed around U.S. interests. So the Cheney-friendly Wall Street Journal lashes out at the “moral degradation” of Amnesty International, debased so low as to compare the U.S.’s global network of detention centers including those in allied countries that routinely employ torture, with a “gulag.” Neocons David Rivkin and Lee Casey condemn AI’s “extravagant and unfounded claims” in the National Review without attempting to refute any particular claim. “Groups like Amnesty persistently state that American policy at Guantanamo Bay is illegal,” they declare, “even though this is simply not true.” It just is, in the disassembler’s words, not true.
But from the reality-based camp a muezzin cries, “Yes! what AI says is true.” The battle to determine what is slowly takes shape, as the implications of the lies so plainly spelled out in the Downing Street Memo and so many other documents impact those still awake among us. The Bush administration knowingly and willfully attacked a sovereign country, illegally, unprovoked, on the basis of deliberately manufactured lies, using the emotions produced by 9-11, general ignorance, and a compliant press to promote the cause. Seizing control of a country whose population responded to occupation with sullen caution or natural, predictable resistance, the occupiers rounded up thousands of people doing what people typically do under such circumstances. Of course kids with Kalashnikovs are going to shoot at the invaders. (What would kids in Texas do if confronted with analogous events?) Hated, opposed, ill-prepared by their own brainwashing process as to why any decent person would dislike them, the fine American troops treat these kids as “terrorists,” cousins of the 9-11 attackers. Why not make them excrete on themselves, and smear them with menstrual blood, and force them to masturbate and simulate homosexual acts on camera so their neighbors can see, since they hate America so much?
These are the questions raised implicitly by Bush and Cheney and their defenders in the press. How can anyone dispute the reason and justice of the heroic plan to conquer the Greater Middle East, through a combination of military and psy-war tactics, noble lies and if possible a fascistic crackdown on dissent at home? Only people who hate America, people trained in some instances to disassemble, would wish that. So say the fascists. But they are in trouble as thinking people lock horns with their brain-dead supporters, who can only endlessly echo “United We Stand” as they stand against anybody Bush wants to smite in his ongoing imperialist Crusade.
Thank you, Amnesty International, for your epistemological integrity in these troubled crusading neo-medieval proto-fascist times.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org