Words Without Meaning

“Wisdom cries aloud in the streets; in the market place she lifts her voice.”

(Proverbs 1:20)

Now is the time for Americans to consolidate the arguments that will hammer through the wall of silence, of arrogance and of disdain that has insulated this administration from culpability resulting from its insidious designs to destroy America. As Rove’s wrath, unveiled in his attempt to discredit Ambassador Wilson, forces our slumbering journalists to awaken to the despicable nature of this administration, the greater sins inherent in coercing the American people to war through lies and the approval of inhumane torture against all international laws and conventions cry out for justice to prevail. It will not be easy.

The locusts descended recently on Congressman Conyers and Senator Durbin with prophetic wrath hiding their attempts to enlighten America beneath black clouds of obfuscation and deception, words without meaning: truth buried in a deluge of righteous indignation and condemnation lest it rise to the surface like volcanic water to scorch the hungry hordes that feed on lies. But the water has started to boil as the lies that took this nation to an illegal war with Iraq rise from the depths of classified information to the surface in the form of evidentiary documents that detail the deception of Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell, Feith, the whole Cabal of Neo-Con cultists that have used American lives to gain their strategic ends while the American people suffer the consequences of duplicity, arrogance and disdain.

And as the bubbles of truth erupt, as truth spreads like a vapor of steam above the boiling cauldron, “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets; in the market place she lifts her voice.” An awakened America will dissemble the duplicitous that roused fear in the countryside by claiming Saddam threatened the United States, that Saddam caused 9/11, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam would use chemical and biological warfare against America, that Iraqis would strew flowers before our liberating troops, that the mid-east was ripe for Democracy, that the cost of the war would be covered by Iraqi oil, and that God had given America the gift of freedom and it must deliver His gift to all the world: all lies, known lies, humiliating and demeaning lies, insidious and destructive lies.

Conyers, forced underground into the Congressional basement by the Republican majority, perhaps ironically, gave vent to the explosive forces that lay beneath this unholy House of Representatives. The people came from across the land to charge the administration with outright lies that brought America to war, proof in hand in the form of the Downing Street memos, calling for impeachment. Congressmen and Congresswomen apologized to the people for lack of understanding as they handed over their constitutional authority to declare war to the executive branch. These documents, that itemize the deception and the disdain for international law by the Bush administration, available in Britain as early as May 1, 2005, did not receive acknowledgment by the main stream media in this country even after Conyers forced them to light, documents that would serve as legal evidence in a court of law. So much for fair and balanced reporting.

Durbin, forced by Republican righteous outrage and Democratic spinelessness to retract his statements lest the administration and the military be tarred with the blackness of their evil, courageously confronted the Senate and the country with an accurate depiction of the administration’s mockery of the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture. But nothing this country does can be seen as wrong in the eyes of the right wing politicians and pundits, and, consequently, no one needs be held responsible for wrongdoing. How convenient. How clever. How despicable. Hence the need for us to review the documents as they convey meaning accepted by the world’s communities, or capitulate to the chaos that results when words have no meaning but that given to them by those with power.

The details of the Downing Street memos have been circulated far and wide. They determine two important things: Bush intended to take America to war against Iraq regardless of the evidence that could demonstrate its belligerent intent against the United States; and, Bush had undertaken illegal military invasion of Iraq long before he declared open warfare against that country. In the words of Michael Smith, the correspondent who released the memos, “Bush and Blair began their war not in March 2003, as everyone believed, but at the end of August 2002, six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq.” (Commondreams, 6/23/05) Bush failed to inform the American people that he had taken the country to war even as he prepared a torturous campaign of propagandistic lies to deceive them that he had to use military force to protect them from this enemy. Surely an independent investigation must ensue to provide Americans with the truth; short of that, we are forced to complicity in his crimes.

But if the Downing Street memos signal the knell that will summon Bush and his cohorts to Hell, it’s the brazen use of torture in our name that signals the nadir of this republic as its soul sinks into the darkness of racial indifference and outright hatred. Say it plainly: Bush has allowed for torture; he has encouraged it; he has abandoned all pretense to principles that place America at the forefront of nations that seek equity, respect and justice for all the world’s peoples. He has done this knowing the consequences ­ America seen throughout the world as a rapacious and racist state and, more frighteningly for our own people, he has granted license to anyone, anywhere to treat Americans in like manner thus undoing what this nation has fought for since the inauguration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention against Torture.

Let’s begin with Durbin’s words to the Senate: “If I read this to you, and did not tell you it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulag or some mad regime ­ Pol Pot or others ­ that had no concern for human beings.” What did the FBI agent describe? “…I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defacated (sic) on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more. On one occassion (sic), the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the MP’s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occassion (sic), the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out …etc, etc.”

Why did the Republicans and the right wing pundits jump on Durbin? Did he not describe torture of a brutal, inhumane kind perpetrated by our military? Did he not place that kind of behavior and treatment appropriately by comparison in referring to Nazis, Soviets, and others like Pol Pot, or some mad regime? Has this administration become that mad regime? Weren’t these the same Republicans that took to the Congressional hearing rooms to declare their outrage against such abusive behavior when photos gave graphic reality to our mad regime’s allowance of such brutal torture? Was the difference Durbin’s use of words to describe the abuse versus the visual depiction of that same abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison? Had they not proclaimed to the American people and to the world that they would not tolerate any such violation of human rights in America’s name? Then why attack the messenger of truth?

Durbin, after all, did not choose to describe the worst of the abuses, those that led to a slow and agonizing death like that which befell Mr. Dilawar and Mullah Habibullah. Dilawar was maimed and killed over a five day period by “destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes.” (“Army Details Scale of Abuses of Prisoners in an Afghan Jail,” 3/12/05). He, like Habibullah, had been chained to the ceiling with his wrists tied behind him to make the trashing of his knees easier on the Americans as they inflicted a torture that has roots in the Inquisition where the “prisoner was hoisted about six feet above the floor (the Americans let Dilawar’s feet touch the floor), … and left hanging there from his wrists tied behind his back.” This was one of six delightful techniques used by the Inquisition called the “strappado.” Pope Alexander IV, in 1256, gave his Inquisitors, now called “Interrogators” in Bush’s military parlance, the “right to mutually absolve one another and grant dispensations to their colleagues” should they use torture to elicit confessions. Considering how those responsible in our military for the use of torture have granted each other absolution at the higher ranks, you’d think they learned their duties from the Inquisition Handbook.

Let me quote Tom Stephens’ chronology of torture abuse laid out in these pages May 13, 2005: “The US Army Inspector General, on the one year anniversary of the Abu Ghraib scandal, announces that no senior military officer will be held accountable. … Rumsfeld, … Tenet and Gonzales … haven’t been investigated. Instead, all three have been rewarded and lavishly praised by the President. Tenet got the Medal of Freedom. Gonzales got a promotion from White House counsel to attorney general. And Rumsfeld … got to keep his job.” Only the privates, the corporals and the sergeants have been indicted while the MPs and the Interrogators go free.

So why should the Republicans kill the messenger of truth? Because the responsibility for the crime, for the breaking of international law, the defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the destruction of the UN Convention against Torture rests in the President of the United States directly and through his appointment of the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, and in the acquiescence of the high command in the military.

Consider the evidence. The UN Convention against Torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” We know torture has taken place; indeed, we know it continues. Do we have evidence that it has been done with the “consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”?

“According to agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, President George W. Bush has signed a secret executive order approving the use of torture against prisoners captured in the ‘war on terror’ ­ including thousands of innocent people rounded up in Iraq and crammed into Saddam Hussein’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison. FBI documents, obtained in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and reported in the Los Angeles Times,” detailed the abuses. “What’s more, the FBI papers state repeatedly and unequivocally that Bush himself had authorized the aggressive techniques.” Other memos state that “the ‘Commander in Chief” cannot be constrained by any law whatsoever in the prosecution of a war.” (Veteransforcommonsense.org, 6/27/05). Reminds one of Pope Alexander IV justifying his actions as directed by a higher power, something the Medieval mind would accept but one today’s civilizations would find repulsive at best.

Let’s note here that the administration understands the mess it has placed the United States in relative to its stature in the community of nations. It also knows that the public hearings into the Abu Ghraib tortures requires them to inquire “into the facts” as stated in Article 6.2 of the UN Convention. It has submitted, therefore, an “acknowledgment” to the UN that “prisoners at US detention centres (sic) in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq” have been tortured. They denied culpability beyond blame that rested with “isolated cases” and reflected “nothing systematic.” The UN Committee against Torture, recognizing the mounting evidence of US use of torture will hold hearings in May 2006 on the subject thus forcing the administration to present its case in a report. (AFX News, 6/24/05).

Article 2.1 of the UN Convention against Torture states: “1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.” That statement would have to include Guantanamo Bay, our prisons in Iraq, like Abu Ghraib, and those in Afghanistan since the United States is the occupying power and required by law to ensure the provisions of the UN Convention are upheld. Instead, this administration authorizes the use of torture techniques that are absolutely prohibited as noted above, techniques that undermine the prisoners’ psychological state of mind, alienate him from personal identity, inflict states of spiritual trauma through use of sexual degradation, and coerce obedience by sustained, inhumane physical torture that creates excruciating pain lasting hours and days on end.

Article 2.2 of the Convention states, “2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.” This provision negates Bush’s attempt to justify his actions under the “Commander in Chief” pose. No American President has the authority to unilaterally erase a major provision or provisions of an agreement signed on behalf of the United States and its Representatives on behalf of the American people. For Bush to license himself as “unconstrained by any law whatsoever” as he pursues a war he declared to be such, against nation states that did not declare war on America, indeed, never attacked America, is the height of absurdity made possible by a pathological mind caught in a web of its own deceit.

Article 2.3 of the Convention states, “3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” This item requires that those who order the torture and those who execute it bear full responsibility. Bush, Rumsfeld, the various generals in charge, the Military Police assigned to the prisons, and most certainly the Interrogators and the doctors assigned to care for the prisoners who did not perform their duties on behalf of the prisoners but for the Interrogators, all should be brought forward to pay for their crimes. (See Maura Lerner’s article, 6/20/05 in the Star Tribune about doctors at Abu Ghraib who abetted the Interrogators at the expense of the prisoner).

Under the Geneva Conventions, Article 13, “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited … no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.” It continues in Article 14, “Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour.” And in Article 16 “… all prisoners shall be treated alike by the Detaining Power, without any adverse distinction based on race, nationality, religious belief or political opinions, or any other distinction founded on similar criteria.” And, finally, in Article 17 we find this, “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners or war to secure from them information of any kind whatsoever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”

The words could not be more clear; these are not words without meaning. These are words that give meaning to nations as humane, just, and equitable, virtues this Christian nation should recognize as the most substantive ever proffered to give respect and dignity to all people. What the US military has done, with the complicity, indeed the orders of the Bush administration from the Pentagon to the White House, violates the intent and the substance of these conventions that America signed and legislatively authorized its peoples’ Representatives to uphold.

This has been done in our name. It’s the American people who suffer the consequences of these horrendous acts that defy agreements the United States in past decades worked so hard to achieve, conventions that protect not just civilians, but military personnel captured by our enemies. They prevent acts of a kind executed by barbarous nations, like Hitler’s Nazi Germany, like Stalin’s gulag, like Pol Pot and all other mad regimes that have resorted to inhumane acts of torture to further their political and military ends.

Durbin spoke the truth. He should have been hailed for his courage not castigated for an unwillingness to cover up the administration’s atrocities. Durbin knew, as his critics did not, that it’s not the number of prisoners a Detaining Power has under its control, it’s the silent willingness to inflict inhumane torture in secret on even one prisoner that corrodes the trust nations have toward each other, assuring a degree of dignity and respect for those fighting for perceived rights or those caught in the maelstrom and innocent of any crime. He understood, and used examples of regimes that did not accept the human rights guaranteed in the Conventions, that torture turns the Interrogators into robots of the state, prisoners into sub-human-fodder to be used at the will of the Detaining Power, and citizens of the Detaining Power into deceived accomplices of the crime. He understood that the pictures at Abu Ghraib and the reports by FBI investigators revealed an America that negated the very virtues it proclaimed to be its principle hallmark throughout the land, equality, respect, and dignity for the individual.

He felt that the words of the FBI reports detailed a willingness on the part of this administration to subvert the guarantees it has made to the world’s communities, that its willingness to inflict such punishment meant that we had fallen to the depths of darkness visible in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” where humans became expendable things, to be used by those with the power to inflict their will, oblivious of human rights and individual respect. He sensed the catastrophic consequences of the isolation imposed on those chained in a fetal position on the floor, the internal degradation that results from being forced to urinate and defecate on yourself, the resulting inescapable stench that floods the enclosure held like a blanket over the body in the 100 degree heat, the abysmal alienation of the soul that has no recourse to friends or family or any human contact whatsoever, the absolute eradication of a person’s identity and self-worth caused by Bush’s desire to regress to a barbaric state where he can impose his will regardless of the consequences to his country and the soul of its citizens. Durbin knew that words have meaning, that the Conventions are explicit, that lies and obfuscation do not erase the deed, that a nation cannot thrive where its words become hollow, mere tinkling sounds without substance, without sense, without soul.

Yet this administration defies the truth that comes forth every day; it continues to flaunt its will before the world as it demands acquiescence to its arrogant policy of pre-emptive strike based on its determination of what nation might threaten the United States’ control of atomic weapons, military superiority, and economic Capitalistic dominance across the globe. That arrogance breeds contempt for other nations and other people. That arrogance propels a sense of superiority that gives license to control, even to gain that control by torture. That arrogance gives rise to an intransigent, deeply embedded racism that finds fault with others who attempt to thwart its dominance. That arrogance has pitted America’s perceived acceptance of torture as acceptable acts of an innocuous kind, as explained away by the Republicans, against the conscience of the world’s communities that find it barbaric and contradictory of the very values Bush claims to bring to the world.

It’s the American people that are maligned; it’s our values that are desecrated; it’s our nation that has been placed under this horrific pall by an administration willing to subvert its most cherished ideals. But now truth has boiled to the surface, evidence accumulates daily, the people stir: “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets; in the market place she lifts her voice.”

William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU


















William A. Cook is the  author of Decade of Deceit and Age of Fools.