Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Democratic Candidate for Congress
Louisiana's Seventh District
• • • • •
Are We Really So Fearful?
By Ariel Dorfman
Sunday, September 24, 2006; B01
It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.
That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.
It was his image, in fact, that swirled up from the past as I pondered the current political debate in the United States about the practicality of torture. Something in me must have needed to resurrect that victim, force my fellow citizens here to spend a few minutes with the eternal iciness that had settled into that man's heart and flesh, and demand that they take a good hard look at him before anyone dare maintain that, to save lives, it might be necessary to inflict unbearable pain on a fellow human being. Perhaps the optimist in me hoped that this damaged Argentine man could, all these decades later, help shatter the perverse innocence of contemporary Americans, just as he had burst the bubble of ignorance protecting the young Chilean I used to be, someone who back then had encountered torture mainly through books and movies and newspaper reports.
That is not, however, the only lesson that today's ruthless world can learn from that distant man condemned to shiver forever.
All those years ago, that torture victim kept moving his lips, trying to articulate an explanation, muttering the same words over and over. "It was a mistake," he repeated, and in the next few days I pieced together his sad and foolish tale. He was an Argentine revolutionary who had fled his homeland and, as soon as he had crossed the mountains into Chile, had begun to boast about what he would do to the military there if it staged a coup, about his expertise with arms of every sort, about his colossal stash of weapons. Bluster and braggadocio -- and every word of it false.
But how could he convince those men who were beating him, hooking his penis to electric wires and waterboarding him? How could he prove to them that he had been lying, prancing in front of his Chilean comrades, just trying to impress the ladies with his fraudulent insurgent persona?
Of course, he couldn't. He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.
There was no escape.
That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim. It was always the same story, what I discovered in the ensuing years, as I became an unwilling expert on all manner of torments and degradations, my life and my writing overflowing with grief from every continent. Each of those mutilated spines and fractured lives -- Chinese, Guatemalan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Iranian, Uzbek, need I go on? -- all of them, men and women alike, surrendered the same story of essential asymmetry, where one man has all the power in the world and the other has nothing but pain, where one man can decree death at the flick of a wrist and the other can only pray that the wrist will be flicked soon.
It is a story that our species has listened to with mounting revulsion, a horror that has led almost every nation to sign treaties over the past decades declaring these abominations as crimes against humanity, transgressions interdicted all across the earth. That is the wisdom, national and international, that has taken us thousands of years of tribulation and shame to achieve. That is the wisdom we are being asked to throw away when we formulate the question -- Does torture work? -- when we allow ourselves to ask whether we can afford to outlaw torture if we want to defeat terrorism.
I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress -- such as that extracted from the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago cesspool in 1973 -- are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.
I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.
Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?
Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?
Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean American writer and professor at Duke University, is author of "Death and the Maiden."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I've been thinking about the Republican business model as it applies to governing at the federal level. There are some prime examples where the emergence of that model becomes clear: Iraq, Medicare prescription drug program, FEMA/disaster recovery, energy policy and other areas of focus of this administration.
Corruption is definitely a core piece of the business model.
However, the model itself looks to me to be something like this: identify an issue/challenge/policy; propose/pretend to address it; initiate action, the prime efficiency of which is to enrich your cronies and patrons.
In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was flooded with cronies, had great power, but the real money was made by the contractors. That continues in Iraq today long after the CPA has disappeared.
The Medicare prescription drug program gets prescription drugs to seniors, but the primary beneficiaries are the insurance companies selling plans and the pharmaceutical industry selling the drugs at taxpayer expense at rates they solely determine (remember, the government can't negotiate on prices).
FEMA's response to both Katrina and Rita (remember Rita? One-year anniversary coming up this weekend) was more of the same. The prime beneficiaries were the Halliburtons of the world who got no bid contracts to handle aspects of the cleanup/recovery. While residents across the northern Gulf of Mexico, individuals, families, communities and businesses continue to struggle to recover, the contractors have been rewarded with another round of no-bid contracts from FEMA.
Energy policy is explicitly corrupt. Bush/Cheney energy policies have resulted in record high prices and record profits for oil companies. In their eyes (and the eyes of the energy companies) the policy is a smashing success.
The use of a business model template is useful because it helps anticipate how emerging policy initiatives of the administration will actually turn out. Apply this business model to Bush's renewed vow to privatize Social Security and it becomes apparent that the fate of retirees will be substantially less secure, but the financial services companies will make a killing.The Republican-controlled Congress gave it's approval to this approach (at least indirectly) through its failure to provide any meaningful oversight to any of the administration's policies and programs during the nearly six years it has been in power.
This was cross-posted as a comment at TPM Café:
And at Bloggin for Mike:
Friday, September 08, 2006
National Public Radio had the best coverage of the day on the House Armed Services Committee testimony by the Judge Advocate Generals of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces today.
Hearing it on All Things Considered as I drove across the Atchafalaya Basin bridge on I-10 this afternoon was an amazing experience. I believe something fundamentally changed today with this testimony.
The press today was in absolute awe of Bush/Rove/Cheney's ability to change the agenda from Iraq/Rumsfeld to the squeeze play his team was attempting to put on Democrats with his new plea for congressional approval of his illegal military tribunals for captured alleged terrorists.
That focus on the game, rather than the facts came to a grinding halt today with the testimony of the JAGs.
Steven Bradbury, the assistant attorney general who testified before the Senate panel for the Bush administration, assured lawmakers that this time, the White House got it right.
"These military commission procedures would provide for fundamentally fair trials," Bradbury said. But he also pointed out one provision that is unheard of in courts of law, that "classified evidence may be considered by the commission outside the presence of the accused."
In explaining the policy, Bradbury said that, "In the midst of the current conflict, we cannot share with captured terrorists the highly sensitive intelligence relevant to some military commission prosecutions."
For Gen. James Walker, staff judge advocate of the U.S. Marine Corps, that provision is a major problem.
"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people," he said, "where an individual can be tried without -- and convicted without -- seeing the evidence against him. And I don't think that the United States needs to become the first in that scenario."
The judge advocate generals of the Army, Navy and Air Force who also testified all agreed with Walker. Some also objected to the commissions' admissibility of evidence obtained under coercion that falls short of torture.
The Bush tribunals would not as "a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people."
Has anymore powerful indictment of the policy of any U.S. administration ever been delivered in Congress by anyone serving on active duty in the military?
In an exchange included in the airing of the segment on ATC but not in the story carried on the site, under questioning from a North Carolina Democrat, Assistant AG Bradbury admitted that the U.S. would not recognize as legitimate the very standards he was defending if captured U.S. servicemen and women were subjected to them at the hands of their captors.
The political desperation of the Bush administration has compelled it to seek rushed Congressional approval of its methods. The reforms are defined as being outside the norms of legitimate jurisprudence. What does that say about the practices that the CIA and the military have been engaged in prior to this rush for cover?
The military has stood up to the administration in a public way that has not happened before. We are in new territory here. The old plays no longer appear to be working.
Democratic Candidate for Congress
Lousiana's Seventh District