Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Channeling Billmon

I'm not Billmon, whose ability to tie history and current events together is magical. I do, however, aspire to magic.

Continuing on the anti-Gonzales theme.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, p. 100:

A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit on his arms and legs and hold him down and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin … is simply thrust into his jaws … and then water is pored onto his face, down his throat and nose … until the man gives some sign of giving in or becomes unconscious. … His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but who cannot drown.

Amid mounting cries of revulsion, the President swung into action. He … demanded a full briefing on the Philippine situation. [Secretary of War] Root said defensively that one officer accused of water torture had been ordered to report for trial. Roosevelt was not satisfied.

The New York Review of Books: Torture and Gonzales: An Exchange (my emphasis):

As White House counsel Mr. Gonzales served as “point man” directing the administration's policies on interrogation, and presided in particular over two major decisions. First, he strongly advised the President to withhold Geneva Convention protection from prisoners taken in Afghan- istan, an unprecedented position that the Bush administration, after considerable debate, adopted. Second, he solicited a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice that, as Mr. Rivkin says, declares that the president, under his war powers as commander in chief, can “legally” order torture to be applied. The memo, which is dated August 2002, also “redefines” the meaning of the word “torture” as it appeared in domestic statutes and international treaties which commit the United States to prohibit its use. By defining torture very narrowly—as an activity that causes pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”—this memo, by a kind of repellent verbal sleight of hand, makes it possible to treat many practices that plainly are torture, and are so recognized throughout the world, as something less than that. Thus “waterboarding,” for example—the practice of stripping prisoners and submerging them until they have nearly drowned— which is a favorite of torturers around the world and which, as I discussed in my article, Americans have used on al-Qaeda prisoners, could be considered under this memorandum to be a legal practice.

According to a report in The New York Times on January 13, subsequent and still- secret memorandums explicitly approved the use of waterboarding as one of twenty additional “interrogation practices” that intelligence officers were permitted to use. Though these memos were apparently intended to guide the CIA, at least some of their content—in particular, entire paragraphs drawn verbatim from the Bybee memorandum of August 2002—was incorporated into the Pentagon's Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terror of April 2003. Our picture of discussions within the administration remains incomplete, a jigsaw puzzle still missing many pieces; but it is no longer tenable to claim, as administration officials up to and including Mr. Gonzales repeatedly have done, that these were “advisory” opinions which had no direct effect on how detainees were treated. What these policymakers decided and wrote had a direct effect on how detainees were treated.

L.A. Times: Torture Becomes a Matter of Definition

After two lengthy confirmation hearings and hundreds of pages of written testimony, senators have not succeeded in confirming or refuting news reports that administration officials have approved water-boarding and used it on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

In written and oral testimony, Gonzales declined to say whether water-boarding or forced nudity should be banned.

Theodore Rex, p. 127

[The commanding] general's fellow officers had predictably found him guilty only of excessive zeal, and they “admonished” him to mend his ways.

For a moment, Roosevelt was tempted to accept the verdict …. Part of him sympathized with General Smith. As a former commanding officer himself, Roosevelt had no illusions about the nature of guerrilla warfare. “I thouroughly believe in severe measures when necessary, and am not in the least sensitive about killing any number of men when there is adequate reason.”

[General] Smith, however, had condoned the killing of women and children – “shooting niggers,” to use the general's own phrase. Roosevelt could not tolerate such genocidal rhetoric, nor could he discount the brutalizing effect it must have had on junior officers. The court-martial, he decided, had been a miscarriage of justice. He ordered Smith's prompt dismissal from the Army.

Excerpted from the News and Observer: Epithet shows cultural divide

World War II had its “krauts,” Vietnam had its “gooks,” and now, the War on Terrorism has its own dehumanizing name: “hajji.”

That's what many U.S. troops across Iraq and in coalition bases in Kuwait now call anyone from the Middle East or South Asia. Soldiers who served in Afghanistan say it also is used there.

Among Muslims, the word is used mainly as a title of respect. It means “one who has made the hajj ,” the pilgrimage to Mecca.

That's not how soldiers use it.

Some talk about “killing some hajjis” or “mowing down some hajjis.” One soldier in Iraq inked “Hodgie Killer” onto his footlocker.

The New York Review of Books: Making Torture Legal:

Should the Bush lawyers face professional sanctions for their irresponsible arguments in favor of abandoning the law? Alberto Gonzales says the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” and “obsolete.” Does he believe that any treaty can thus be dismissed when it is inconvenient to an American government? How would he feel if other governments took the same view, to our inconvenience?

Scott Horton, the past chairman of the international human rights committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, thinks the Bush lawyers should face professional sanctions for seeking ways to avoid punishment for illegal torture of prisoners.

Senate Panel Approves Attorney General Nominee:

A divided Senate Judiciary Committee (news - web sites) on Wednesday approved Alberto Gonzales as U.S. attorney general, rejecting concerns about his role in formulating administration policies blamed for contributing to the torture of suspected terrorists.

I Fought The Law” by Dead Kennedys from the album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (1987, 2:17).