Monday, November 14, 2005

We're Still the Good Guys, Right?

Latest newspaper column

The Washington Post recently did a story alleging that the CIA was running secret prisons for “high value” Al-Qaeda detainees in Eastern Europe. The prisons, known as “black sites,” raised concerns that alleged terrorist subjects might be subjected to torture at the hands of the United States or agents working on their behalf.

I can’t imagine why. I mean, how can someone assume that a prisoner being taken to a place described as a “black site” isn’t going to be treated anything but humanely?

The revelation came at a particularly inopportune time, all things considered. Republican Sen. John McCain, who knows a little bit about torture, had vowed to enact a congressional ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners. Incredibly, the Bush administration, led by Darth Cheney, opposed any such language. Cheney appeared before a group of Republican senators and insisted on an exemption from the torture ban for the CIA.

So, even while insisting that “the United States does not torture,” according to George Dubbya Bush, the administration is still, shall we say, keeping its options open when it comes to subjecting suspects to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment. After all, you never know when you might want to have the CIA wire someone’s tender parts to a car battery because we think they might have something to do with terrorism.

Refresh my memory. When did we give up any aspiration to being the Good Guys? Wasn’t “Saddam tortures people” one of the multiple and ever-changing rationales for Dubbya’s Wacky Iraqi Adventure?

Anyway, the revelation that we might be reviving the old-style Soviet chambers of horror incited a furor. The Republican leadership, specifically Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist, demanded an immediate investigation.

Not into the prisons themselves, mind you. They wanted to know who spilled the beans.

In a letter sent to the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Frist and Hastert demanded to know: “Who leaked this information and under what authority? And what is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror? We will consider other changes to this mandate based on your recommendations. Any information that you obtain on this matter that may implicate possible violations of law should be referred to the Department of Justice for appropriate action.”

Yeah, fellows, why don’t you do that? Especially since, according to former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, the leakers were probably Republicans.

CNN’s Ed Henry reported on Tuesday that Lott “stunned reporters” by declaring that this subject was actually discussed at a ‘Republican senators only’ luncheon on the day before the Washington Post story ran. Vice President Cheney, according to Lott, was also in the room for that discussion. Lott said ruefully that senators “can’t keep our mouths shut,” and that “every word that was said in the meeting room went right to the newspaper.”

(One truly interesting thing about this is the question of why Lott would drop this dime on his own people. One theory I’ve read is that Lott is getting some payback on Frist because Lott blames Frist for his ouster as majority leader. Frankly, I’m torn between the impulse to weep for my country and the impulse to make popcorn, sit down and watch the fighting as the Republicans implode. I’m not proud of it, but I have to say that the prospect of watching this gang turn on one another promises more fun than an entire season of “The Sopranos.” But I digress.)

So. Back to torture. If there’s one encouraging thing here, it’s that there are some decent Americans left who’ll blow the whistle.

There are professionals in the CIA who don’t want to see that organization turned into the American Gestapo. There are people like McCain in the Senate, who still have a vision of the United States of America as the guys in the white hats. There are still people who are willing to blow the whistle when they see that vision tarnished by the prospect that we may turn into the very thing we hate, all in the name of — well, I don’t know.

Once we abandon our ideal of ourselves as an example for how a free country needs to behave, what exactly are we fighting for? When the issue is not “how could we be torturing people?” but instead, “how did you find out about it?”… are we still America?

1 comment:

Judith said...

I like your blog, Dusty. You sound like one of the good guys. Liked your book too, and looking forward to the next one.