Take a look at this clip (courtesy of JC) of Senator Leahy giving Alberto Gonzales a lesson in basic decency. The subject is “extraordinary rendition,” Newspeak for the transfer of terrorism suspects to countries where they will be tortured. Leahy makes points that those of us who have been protesting for years are already familiar with, including the important fact that the government has sent people to
Contemplate, if you have the stomach for it, the simpering countenance of the little creep who somehow became the highest law enforcement officer in the land. He wears a smirk of condescension, no doubt feeling an innate superiority to anyone with a conscience. Leahy can talk about freedoms, values, or the Founding Fathers all day, but Gonzales won’t hear, or comprehend. He’s a Bush toady, and that’s the sum total of his world view.
When I think about these times, and these pathetic little men who hold power, I often feel a sense of vertigo, a wonder at how we could have descended so far. When I heard the first stirrings of a right-wing argument for torture (it was in a George Will column in 2001) I was sickened, because I knew it meant that the administration was going to take that route. But I never dreamed that it would become such a central aspect of their program.
Even if one were to believe that torture is an effective tool against terrorism—a belief contradicted by all the facts—it certainly could never be conceived as one of the most important methods, compared to intelligence gathering, informants, surveillance, etc. The need, the absolute imperative to have the “freedom” to torture, which has been repeatedly expressed by Cheney and company, seems completely out of proportion to its importance, as long as one assumes that the rightists really care about fighting terrorism. If, instead, one comes to believe, as I do, that the rightists have a stake in perpetuating the fear of terrorism (and therefore a stake in its persistence), then a couple of possibilities present themselves.
The first is that they believe that the threat of torture will strike fear into the hearts of all their opponents. The enemies, whoever they are, will be intimidated by the apparent willingness of the
We must not fail to also acknowledge the intimidation of American political opponents as a motive. This brings me to the second possible reason for this peculiar fixation on torture. This radical group that I usually label with reference to Richard Cheney, but is in fact a much wider phenomenon, encompassing the so-called neoconservatives as well as neo-fascist, theocratic and nativist forces dominating the Republican Party, is essentially hostile to the American tradition of freedom embodied in the Bill of Rights. To these elements, human and civil rights are an obstacle to the exercise of authoritarian control and economic power (the latter is what they mean when they refer to “freedom.”) The rightists are also hostile to the separation of powers, preferring a centralized executive with unlimited authority. (Paradoxically, they will seek to undermine an executive who is not of their group, e.g. Bill Clinton, if the outsider has connections to elements that does not adhere to rightist ideology. Thus, any Democratic president will be attacked and weakened by the rightists unless he is a rightist himself.) The project, then, is to take any remaining force out of the Bill of Rights, concentrate power in a king-like executive and one-party apparatus (such as in China), while extending economic dominance abroad. The legitimization of torture is a key step along the way, because it ups the stakes against dissenters by discouraging protest, and it undermines the moral foundations of human and civil rights. Torture takes center stage because people need to get used to the degradation of human dignity if they are to eventually accept dictatorship, or at least tacitly accede to it.
I have always maintained that the Bush administration is illegitimate, i.e. not a bona fide legal executive. It has gained power, and maintained it, through fraud, and it has operated primarily through the commission of various crimes, from the crimes against humanity in Iraq and elsewhere to its consistent violation of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and other legal and common human standards of decency, along with deliberate negligence (New Orleans) and political crimes exemplified by Karl Rove and the Libby case.
Nevertheless, it is important to take a long view as well. The creation of a national security state after World War II, and the emergence of an imperial mindset as its driving force, has led us—with tragic inevitability—to where we are today. This idea of government was similar in some respects to the Soviet state that it ostensibly opposed, in that policing and spying (“intelligence”) were invested with virtually unchecked authority, and cloaked in secrecy. Again and again, we have seen the advocates for the military-industrial complex and the police agencies (FBI,
One of the central tenets of this imperial mindset is that
The Bush regime appears to be losing. But in the long run, the national security state will continue unless the apparatus is drastically reduced. The CIA needs to be dismantled. The Pentagon budget needs to be gutted down to a size that actually defends the country instead of imperial interests. Control of the state must be seized from the corporations. The fact that all these goals seem unattainable right now is a measure of how bad things are, and how far we need to go.