Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Did Not Have....Torture...

I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh recently. A beat-up sedan carried the message, "Comes the Rapture, can I have your car?"

Waaay back in high school when I was learning to take a spot on the debate team, our "coach" (we were a team, after all) told us to be sure to pay attention to the definitions of terms, warning that the wrong definitions, if agreed to, could come back to bite us later.
This turned out to be true, though it didn't dawn on me until decades later. Sad to say, it was Bill Clinton who employed the debater's trick when he said "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." Without providing an advanced birds-and-bees lesson, I think we recall just what happened and what didn't, and which side used which definition of "sex" in the process. It wasn't a great moment in the Republic's history, but there it is, and we're stuck with it.
It turns out that those taking notes at the time must have included the sharpies who now occupy the seats of power in the Bush administration. More than once they have said to us in so many words, "We don't conduct torture in the War on Terror." But they seem to want it both ways, because in the next breath they will tell you that whatever it is we do, it works and "protects" us by providing information we need.
How can they claim this virtual impossibility? Simple. They employ the debater's strategy of controlling the definitions, and since torture is seen, no surprise, as a bad thing, they define it so severely as to almost equate it with death. Anything short of this absurdly high standard? Why, it's OK, right? In fact, it's just a new jargon term we designed for exactly this purpose - advanced interrogation techniques. Torture?? Posh. Only the other side does torture, and we'd never be like them. Will the Bush folks discuss these techniques? Nope. What might be considered over the line? Oh no. How often? To how many? How many actual deaths? So sorry. It's all classified, and if we were to reveal what we do in your name, you might disagree or (horrors!) decide to flip your vote next time. So please don't ask. And if you ask in court, remember who runs the highest Court. Clue - not you. In fact, one of the men on that Court just published a book, and he's still a very angry man.
Now all this is before raising another mystery term - extraordinary rendition. It appears to involve taking prisoners to other countries. They won't talk about this either, but I'd be willing to bet that there are no sightseeing tours included. Remember, the operative statement is "We don't torture." It's certainly not "We don't know anyone who tortures." That's another debating point in favor of pain. Where and when? No comment.
Senator McCain has a claim on this issue that no one else can provide. He was a torture victim in North Vietnam, and has worked to eliminate it from this war, at least from our side. He says that it's not about what the other side does. It's about what we, the United States does as the world looks to us for its example. That's precisely what I'm afraid of.


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