By now, we've become inured to the grotesque spectacle of Bush Regime appointees behaving as if the rules of reality can be suspended at the whim of the Grand and Glorious Decider. Thus it is with a dull sense of soul-weary duty, rather than with an acute sense of outrage freshly whetted against a novel form of evil, that we examine the casual ratification of the practice of “waterboarding” -- that is, controlled drowning – resulting from Senate confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey.
Mr. Mukasey was advertised as a sober, independent jurist not beholden to the Bush Regime's dictatorial dogmas. Yet on the razor's-edge question of a defining claim of dictatorial power – that is, can the president authorize torture, in the specific form of “waterboarding”? -- Mukasey revealed himself to be a Bu'ushist in full.
Replying in writing to a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry, Mukasey insisted that he personally finds waterboarding “repugnant” but not necessarily illegal.
“I said at the hearing that torture violates the law and the Constitution, and the president may not authorize it as he is no less bound by constitutional restrictions than any other government official,” wrote Mukasey. He also acknowledged that military personnel are expressly prohibited from subjecting a detainee to “waterboarding” under the Detainee Treatment Act and the Field Manual on Intelligence.
If you hear a Limbaugh-sized “but” in the offing, you're absolutely correct.
With respect to the use of that technique by civilian interrogators, such as CIA officials, Mukasey engaged in a prolonged exercise in omphaloskepsis, refusing to rule out the practice of waterboarding since it is not specifically described as “torture” in an existing statute. The same is true, of course, of myriad other sadistic exercises currently in use or yet to be invented by the perverse ingenuity of fallen man, any of which could be pressed into service by the Bu'ushists or their successors.
There is no ambiguity here as to whether waterboarding is torture. It was identified as such for the purpose of prosecuting as war criminals those Japanese military police who practiced it as an intelligence and counter-insurgency measure. African warlords found it useful in sowing terror and despair among their opponents. The Khmer Rouge, who didn't flinch from using every depraved and barbarous tool devised by their singularly resourceful imagination, found waterboarding to be their most effective torture protocol.
In a letter of their own (.pdf) to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, former Judge Advocates General for all four branches of the military wrote: “Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise -- or even to give credence to such a suggestion -- represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.” (Emphasis added.)
And yet, those loyal to the cult of the Dear Leader affect a puzzled agnosticism when asked if waterboarding is illegal torture, rather than a permissible form of “enhanced interrogation.”
Mukasey, faithfully following The Decider's example, took refuge in circular reasoning: Torture is illegal; the administration practices waterboarding; therefore, waterboarding can't be illegal, because the administration practices it.
Acting like an idiot – and a dishonest one, at that – for public consumption was a relatively trivial sacrifice for Mukasey. Daniel Levin, former acting assistant Attorney General, made a more substantial sacrifice in the service of The Decider's torture prerogative.
A diagram illustrating a waterboarding technique favored by African warlords during a conflict in Chad.
In 2004, Levin voluntarily underwent waterboarding at a US military facility in order to determine whether it constitutes torture. Even though he was in friendly hands that withheld the worst from him, and surrounded by medical personnel ready to administer help to him, Levin found the experience utterly terrifying.
And yet ... even then he couldn't bring himself to say that the practice “amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances,” as the JAG officers observed. Instead, he wrote that it could be regarded as illegal torture unless carried out in a highly limited way under appropriate supervision.
Levin's December 2004 memo on interrogation, which described torture as “abhorrent,” contained a footnote pointedly denying that the previous Bush Regime legal opinions on the subject were incorrect. Levin was instructed to revise his memo to highlight the substance of his footnote – namely, that torture was still legal, whether or not it was expressly forbidden by law. But Levin was forced out by other Regime officials who caught the scent of heresy and apostasy wafting from the first draft of his memo.
With the connivance of key Democrats – chiefly the execrable Charles Schumer – Mukasey appears headed for confirmation. Meanwhile, John Bellinger, the chief legal aide to Secretary of State Rice, has pointedly refused to describe waterboarding of US citizens as illegal – even when carried out by foreign intelligence agencies:
Philippe Sands [BBC reporter]: Let me put it in yet another way. Could you imagine any circumstances in which the use of water boarding on an American national by a foreign intelligence service could be justified?
John Bellinger: One would have to apply the facts to the law, the law to the facts, to determine whether any technique, whatever it happened to be, would cause severe physical pain or suffering.
Philippe Sands: So you're willing to exclude any American going to the international criminal court under any circumstances, but you're not able to exclude the possibility of water boarding being used on a United States national by foreign intelligence service? I mean, that just strikes me as very curious.
John Bellinger: Well, I'm not willing to include it or exclude it, I mean, these are issues that our justice department as a matter of interpreting both the domestic law on torture and international law, has concluded that just don't want to get involved in abstract discussions of applying the law to any set of facts.
How should the question of US citizens suffering torture at the hands of foreign interrogators be considered “an abstract discussion”? So zealous is the Bush Regime to protect its self-issued license to torture that it has now validated the arguments used by Japanese war criminals six decades ago to justify their own torture of American servicemen.
Bush and his claque aren't likely to suffer for their criminal policies (although hope endures). But they have now openly admitted that, where waterboarding is concerned, Americans are quite likely to catch the hell our rulers have sown.
As the song says, “You're gonna reap just what you sow – that old sayin' is true ... Just like you mistreat someone, someone's gonna mistreat you.... Further on up the road.”
There was a time when conservatives denounced “situational ethics,” rather than pioneering new frontiers in the same. Even though it might be too much to ask conservatives to keep their categorical imperatives in line, couldn't they at least understand the elemental logic of payback?
There's wisdom in the lyrics of the blues standard performed below by the immortal Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. The performance is (appropriately enough) from a 1981 London concert called “The Secret Policeman's Other Ball,” a fundraiser for Amnesty International's commendable efforts to combat torture.
Mssrs. Clapton and Beck swap 24-bar leads. Clapton's are elegant. Beck's are incendiary
Dum spiro, pugno!