AUSTIN, Texas - Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?
I’d like to thank Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham—a former military lawyer—and John Warner of Virginia. I will always think fondly of John Warner for this one reason: Forty years ago, this country was involved in an unprovoked and unnecessary war. It ended so badly the vets finally had to hold their own homecoming parade, years after they came home. The only member of Congress who attended was John Warner.
A debate on torture. I don’t know—what do you think? I guess we have to define it, first. The White House has already specified “water boarding,” making some guy think he’s drowning for long periods, as a perfectly good interrogation technique. Maybe, but it was also a great favorite of the Gestapo and has been described and condemned in thousands of memoirs and novels in highly unpleasant terms.
I don’t think we can give it a good name again, and I personally kind of don’t like being identified with the Gestapo. How icky. (Somewhere inside me, a small voice is shrieking, “Are you insane?")
The safe position is, “Torture doesn’t work.”
Well, actually, it works to this extent—anybody can be tortured into telling anything that’s true and anything that’s not true. The more people are tortured, the more they make up to please the torturer. Then the torturer has to figure out when the vic started lying. Since our torturers are, in George Bush’s immortal phrase, “professionals” and this whole legislative fight is over making torture legal so the “professionals” can’t later be charged with breaking the Geneva Conventions, Bush has vowed to end “the program” completely if he doesn’t get what he wants. (The same thin voice is shrieking, “Professional torturers trained with my tax money?")
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Bush’s problem is that despite repeated warnings, he went ahead with “the program” without waiting for Congress to provide a fig leaf of legality. Actually, we have been torturing prisoners at Gitmo, prisons in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan for years.
Since only seven of the several hundred prisoners at Gitmo have ever been charged with anything, we face the unhappy prospect that the rest of them are innocent. And will sue. That’s going to be quite an expensive settlement. The Canadian upon whom we practiced “rendition,” sending him to Syria for 10 months of torture, will doubtlessly be first on the legal docket. I wonder how high up the chain of command a civil suit can go? Any old war criminals wandering around?
I was interested to find that the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I’d like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don’t know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as ... well, torture. And, um, wrong. And I’ve smoked dope! Boy, everything those conservatives tell us about the terrible moral values of us liberals must be true after all.
Now, in addition to the slightly surreal awakening to find we live in a country that’s having a serious debate on a torture bill, can we do anything about it? The answer is: We better. We better do something about it. Now, right away. What do we do? The answer is: anything ... phone, fax, e-mail, mail, demonstrate—go stand outside their offices or the nearest federal building in the cold and sing hymns or shout rude slogans, chant or make a speech, or start attacking federal property, like a postal box, so they have to arrest you. Gather peacefully and make a lot of noise. Get publicity, too.
How will you feel if you didn’t do something? “Well, honey, when the United States decided to adopt torture as an official policy, I was dipping the dog for ticks.”
As Ann Richards used to say, “I don’t want my tombstone to read: ‘She kept a clean house.’”