Monday, May 18, 2009

Karl Rove, Nancy Pelosi, EITs, torture, and the smelly years

All's relatively quiet on loon pond - the impending winter always lowers hysteria levels - but with no sign of Paul Sheehan in the SMH, and Michael Duffy himself long quiet, and Janet Albrechtsen slow to appear in The Australian, the dearth of quality local loonacy is noticeable.

But that's never an issue for The Australian, in its desire to bring hard hitting truths and insights to the public, so that's how we end up with Karl Rove writing a column entitled In murky waters, torturing truth.

Rove is on the hunt for Nancy Pelosi, and he argues his case with all the skill of a Jesuit conducting an Inquisition show trial (though perhaps a Salem witch hunt would be a more apt parallel).

First prong is of course to call the torture techniques deployed by the United States during the Bush years "enhanced interrogation techniques" and refer mystically to the "valuable information they produced."

Let's not get too bogged down in the history of the torture techniques deployed - the fact that Japanese soldiers were once jailed for waterboarding and other abuses of prisoners during World War 11 is a reminder of how far standards slipped during the Bush years (especially with the news that some of the torture tactics were deployed to establish a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda).

But forget all that, and calling a thing for what it is. A rose is a rose is a rose, except when you're a Bush employee.

 First you have to learn the jargon, so let's now talk of EITs. And remember these are fine things - nothing so crude as torture - and therefore just routine government business.

But what if Nancy Pelosi was briefed about these EITs and did nothing? Well clearly then she's as guilty as the Bush mob who implemented the EITs.

If Pelosi considers the enhanced interrogation techniques to be torture, didn't she have a responsibility to complain at the time, introduce legislation to end the practices, or attempt to deny funding for the CIA's use of them? If she knew what was going on and did nothing, does that make her an accessory to a crime of torture, as many Democrats are calling enhanced interrogation?

Such a clever, cunning, Jesuitical ploy. Moral relativism has never known a finer exponent of the art of argument. Call it torture and its the Democrats who are as guilty as hell; give torture a handy neutral acronym like EIT, talk about massive benefits and the Republican administration that was emerges as shining knights in a truth and justice mission to protect the American people. While the Democrats are treacherous - verging on traitorous - for dissing EITs. Which aren't torture anyway. So where's the fuss?

Well from the outside, I'm quite happy to call waterboarding and similar techniques torture, and to hope that the sophistries of Rove disappear up his fundament. Then both sides can work out who did what to allow torture to enter into the American psyche, and lower its standing in the world, at a time when America still remains way ahead of the opposition (you mean you want to live under the Taliban? Feel free to shift to Pakistan).

Rove could no doubt argue the benefits of apartheid in much the same way (if you did nothing, you implicitly approved) or any number of other things, but it always seemed to me for all the bloody barbarity of the second world war, one of the best things the coalition brought to the fight was a determination to do things right.

Now you can try to muddy the waters, and resort to history, and try to bring in Winston Churchill as endorsing torture. You can even brood about the fire bombings of Tokyo and Dresden and the nuking of two Japanese cities. But the reality is that the British boxed both clever and righteous during World War 11, as noted by Christopher Hitchens in his article for Slate, Ruthless yet Humane, Why Obama cited Churchill on torture.

As Col. Stephens (a monocle wearing military martinet who ran Camp 020 for spies) wrote, following the words quoted above about how "violence is taboo" and that it "lowers the standard of information":

There is no room for a percentage assessment of reliability. If information is correct, it is accepted and recorded; if it is doubtful, it should be rejected in toto.

In other words, it is precisely because the situation was so urgent, so desperate, and so grave that no amateurish or stupid methods could be permitted to taint the source. Col. Stephens, who was entirely devoted to breaking his prisoners and destroying the Nazis, eventually persuaded many important detainees to work for him and began to receive interested inquiries "from the FBI and the North West Mounted Police, from the Director of Security in India to the Resistance Movements of de Gaulle, the Belgians and the Dutch." It would be nice to think that even now, American intelligence might take a leaf from his ruthless and yet humane book.

In short, you could serve cucumber sandwiches and get effective reliable information. While in contrast the Americans have stumbled yet again into a Graham Greene novel, and acted out their Quiet American fantasies once more. 

Behind Rove's meanderings and his attempt to pin the torture tail on the Pelosi donkey - which has devolved in to a 'you were briefed all about it', 'no I wasn't' kind of argument - there is of course loads of self serving interest, and an ongoing drive to divert attention away from what actually happened during the Bush years. Here's a flavor:

... when political winds shifted, Pelosi seems to have decided to use enhanced interrogation as an issue to attack Republicans. It is disgraceful that Democrats who discovered their outrage years after the fact are now braying for disbarment of the government lawyers who justified EITs and the prosecution of Bush administration officials who authorised them. Pelosi is hip-deep in dangerous waters, and they are rapidly rising.

Well yes, but as more and more details of the Bush administration's mis-deeds and mismanagement become public, the dangerous waters are knee-deep around the likes of Donald Rumsfeld. And dare we say it Dick Cheney? And perhaps even Karl Rove?

For a start, some Bush administration officials would be well advised to avoid a trip to Spain any time in the future.

The good thing about the United States is that it's willing to have these debates, in a way for example that Putin's Russia could never imagine. And there's plenty of alternative views out there to play a dead bat to the kind of spin offered up by Rove, which these days is the kind of feeble tweaking that wouldn't see him get a job in the Indian 20/20 competition.

For a start, try Frank Rich's column in The New York Times, with the header Obama Can't Turn the Page on Bush.

Rich outlines some juicy bungles - not so juicy if you happen to be either a soldier or a civilian in Iraq - and he makes a couple of cogent points, especially the desire of Obama to try to shut down the bad news about Bush and his team:

... the new administration doesn’t want to revisit this history any more than it wants to dwell on torture. Once the inspector general’s report on the military analysts was rescinded, the Obama Pentagon declared the matter closed. The White House seems to be taking its cues from the Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan. “Sometimes I think just keep walking,” she said on ABC’s “This Week” as the torture memos surfaced. “Some of life has to be mysterious.” Imagine if she’d been at Nuremberg!

But sometimes, as Rich argues, the truth will out, and attention will be paid, Willy Loman style, no matter what the wishes of the key players.

The administration can’t “just keep walking” because it is losing control of the story. The Beltway punditocracy keeps repeating the cliché that only the A.C.L.U. and the president’s “left-wing base” want accountability, but that’s not the case. Americans know that the Iraq war is not over. A key revelation in last month’s Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees — that torture was used to try to coerce prisoners into “confirming” a bogus Al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein link to sell that war — is finally attracting attention. The more we learn piecemeal of this history, the more bipartisan and voluble the call for full transparency has become.

And I do mean bipartisan. Both Dick Cheney, hoping to prove that torture “worked,” and Nancy Pelosi, fending off accusations of hypocrisy on torture, have now asked for classified C.I.A. documents to be made public. When a duo this unlikely, however inadvertently, is on the same side of an issue, the wave is rising too fast for any White House to control. Court cases, including appeals by the “bad apples” made scapegoats for Abu Ghraib, will yank more secrets into the daylight and enlist more anxious past and present officials into the Cheney-Pelosi demands for disclosure.

It's too much to hope of course that The Australian would somehow manage to have a columnist as sharp as Rich. Instead, predictably, it settles for the publishing of Rovian spin meistering of the most self serving, and self interested kind. About the only thing they got right for the column was the header about the torturing of truth, though they might have called it dissembling about the truth and been a bit more accurate.

There was a lot of truth torturing and physical torturing and bad policy that went on during the Bush years. 

And it seems that we're in for a lot more truth torturing as Rove has decided that the best form of of defence is to mount outrageous, distracting, sleight of hand attacks. He and Dick Cheney have formed a kind of Panzer brigade for a last big push to put aside debate about torture (and whatever EITs don't constitute torture), and all that goes with it, but the funny thing about history is that it just keeps keeping on, like the smell from my wheelie garbage bin.

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