A dividing line crossed


America has crossed a line with the grotesque “debate” about water-boarding and the confirmation of Michael Mukasey–in effect, affirming Bush’s torture policy and giving it a veneer of legality.

Opinion: A dividing line

I had few illusions about whether or not the United States practices torture in the service of foreign policy goals–it does and it has, for a long time. Let me say that police departments across the country also torture— when they beat, choke and taser people. For the purpose of this commentary I’m limiting my thoughts to the current debates about what the Bush Administration calls “enhanced interrogation techniques”–another example of Orwellian double-speak that aims at evading accountability.

Anyone who’s informed about the infamous U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia, that’s taught torture techniques to the dictators and their death squads of Latin America, knows the U.S. DOES torture. Water-boarding is one of those torture techniques long in the curriculum.

Even a sketchy description reveals how prisoners are actually subjected to drowning, taken to the verge of death and yanked back–over and over again. Just knowing the origins of water-boarding–it was invented in the 1500s by the Spanish Inquisition– should be enough to convince anyone: this is torture. American soldiers brought the technique home from the late 1890s US war to “liberate”–that is, COLONIZE==the Philippines from Spain. The US government has exported water-boarding ever since.

For Mukasey, to claim he’s “not been briefed on water-boarding” so, he can’t say whether or not it ‘s torture, defies credulity. But, Mukasey was obviously holding up his end of the bargain and proving to Bush and Chaney that he could be counted on to continue to create “plausible denialbility” in order to avoid war crimes prosecution for US torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other rendition secret sites abroad.

The six Democratic Senators who voted FOR Mukasey’s confirmation are now brazenly complicit in torture. Those six Democrats are: Bayh (D-IN), Carper (D-DE), Landrieu (D-LA), Nelson (D-NE) and the two Senators who made it possible for Mukasey to be approved ,by voting on the Senate Judiciary Committee to take his nomination to the Senate floor, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

But, wait there’s more. Another seven Senators didn’t even bother to vote at all–in effect, being able to SUPPORT Bush’s nominee but, NOT have their confirmation vote on the record.

All four of the Senators running for the Democratic nomination for president failed to be present for this critical vote. Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd were all missing.

Frankly, I’d like to see those elected officials, DOJ lawyers and others (Donald Rumsfeld comes to mind), who keep insisting that “Water-boarding ISN”T torture”, should directly experience this “enhanced interrogation technique” for themselves. A demonstrator did outside the Senate on Tuesday and he told Pacifica’s Democracy Now! that even though he knew his fellow activists would not let him die, the experience was “terrifying”.

Since the photographs from Abu Graibe were revealed, We The People are also implicated in torture. Too many of us turned away, accepted Rumsfeld’s coldly hideous trivialization of what’s being done in our name as “fraternity pranks”. Far too many Americans actually SUPPORT using torture on those labeled by Bush as “terrorists” or “enemy combatants”–and who, NOT coincidentally, are Arab, Muslim, and/or not US citizens.

These Americans have forgotten (if they ever knew) lessons of history that tell us every dictatorship simply STARTS with denial of human rights and due process of law to a vulnerable or unpopular group. Eventually ANYONE can be subjected to the gulag, the concentration camp or the “interrogation” [torture] chamber.

Condileeza Rices’ top legal advisor on international law, John Bollinger just stated at a Guardian newspaper debate in Britain, that he couldn’t exclude the use of water-boarding—-even on US citizens. See story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2205187,00.html

Bush’s Executive Orders and last year’s Military Commissions Act–neither of which got much notice in the Corporate media—echo the tyrannical power to torture whoever Bush decides is an enemy of the State.

What happens when people don’t give a damn about oppression, torture and murder at the hands of the State done to those defined as “the Other”–whether Jews in 1930s Germany or too many Americans today when it comes to abuses done in the so-called “war on terrorism”.? A line is crossed–not only by government officials but by citizens. That line legalizing torture defines an undeniable difference between democracy and dictatorship.

Read Naomi Wolf’s short, essential new book “The End Of America”, which puts current US policies in historical context. Revealing what she calls “echoes” of 20th century tyrannies who slid from open to “closed” societies, committing some of the most infamous atrocities, Wolf is carefully reasoned and documents the 10 steps towards fascism. This should be required reading right now.

Torture is a horrifying form of State-sponsored terrorism, that practiced against “the Enemy” eventually can be practiced against anyone. Like those “good Germans” after WW!!,no American can now say “I didn’t know”.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist , winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also produces/hosts the weekly program CATALYST:politics & culture, heard on Fridays at 11am on KFAI Radio, archived online at http://www.kfai.org Contact her at lhowell@visi.com