For most of the last five years, the Bush administration has managed to ease the minds of many Americans, often a majority, through words alone. Trust us, they've said, and people believed.
But such trust can only hold up for so long when real-world evidence consistently contradicts their words, no matter how often repeated.
So when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted Monday in Europe that "The U.S. does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances," unbiased listeners had to wonder if she was lying or just operating within the exceedingly narrow definition that the administration has assigned to the word "torture."
"The reason she is able to say that the United States does not engage in torture is that the administration has redefined torture to exclude any technique that they use," Tom Malinkowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told the British newspaper The Guardian.
The abuses at Abu Ghraib, though attributed by the White House to low-level plebes alone, certainly qualify as torture. "Waterboarding," a technique in which prisoners are almost, but not quite, drowned, is used as an "enhanced interrogation technique" by the CIA — never mind that Vietnam-era American generals called it torture, or that Rice's own State Department condemns the same technique when used in other nations.
Rice also defended the American practice of "extraordinary rendition," the capture and secret deportation of detainees on foreign soil to third nations, which, just coincidentally, have rather lax rules against torture.
As critics have pointed out, rendition is just a big waste of jet fuel unless you are trying to spirit prisoners away to places where they will not be protected by the law.
"The argument makes no sense unless there is an assumption that the purpose of rendition is to send people to a place where things could be done to them that could not be done in the United States," David Luban, Georgetown University law professor, told The Guardian.
Rice also defended the use of so-called secret prisons for detainees in the war on terror while, curiously, refusing to acknowledge that they exist.
The Washington Post and human-rights organizations have reported the existence of such facilities in two Eastern European nations. And ABC News reported Tuesday that 11 al-Qaida suspects who had been held by the CIA in Eastern Europe were hustled away to a new facility in North Africa in order to "get all the suspects off European soil before ... Rice arrived."
In other words, this detention-torture-rendition cat has shredded the White House's secrecy bag to pieces and fled through an open door. Why, then, does Rice continue to anger would-be European allies (never mind the inflamed Muslim world) by issuing glib and condescending denials?
Like her boss, she seems to suggest that the United States has no choice: We must descend to the level of our enemies and undermine the system of justice that informs our democracy to defeat the terrorists.
Never mind that torture typically renders false information, or that secretive policies have led to the capture, torture and holding of innocent people, and that our policy of "non torture" has led to the death of more than 20 people in U.S. custody.
Instead of whining about "the challenges we face" and flirting with lies about U.S. policy, Rice and her boss might want to take a look at the Constitution once in a while, then ask themselves if we must stoop to barbarism in order to defeat our enemies.
© 2005 The Daily Camera