by Gilles d'Aymery
Calvin: "Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption and destruction of man?"
Hobbes: "I'm not sure man needs the help."
(Swans - January 17, 2005) TORTURE, WHO said torture? To be deemed a torturer within the construct of the American judicial system, the culprit must have "awareness of such activity and thereafter breach his legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such activity." So, as I suggested to our internal Listserve (oops, can't use the "real" word (without the appended e...it's trademarked, ya' know...) on January 8, "well, said Pfc. Lynndie England, I didn't know that putting a leash on a naked prisoner was a form of torture; after all we were having fun...a pretty 'usual' activity, no?" It didn't take long to see this line of reasoning in the news.
THREE DAYS later, the BBC ("Abu Ghraib troops 'did not abuse'," January 11, 2004) reported that Guy Womack, the defense attorney for Spc. Charles Graner who's facing a military trial at Fort Hood, Texas for his "alleged" abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (remember the pictures?) "insisted a tether is a 'valid tool,' and denied that the photos depicted real abuse. He compared pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners in a human pyramid to cheerleaders at US sports events, who form pyramids 'all over America.'" "Don't cheerleaders all over America make pyramids every day?" he asked. After all, he posited, "pyramids" could legitimately be used as a "control technique." "It's not torture," he said.
AND POOR LYNNDIE with her leashed, naked prisoner? Well, it was not a "leash" but a "tether," see; and "the so-called 'tether' technique [is] commonly used by prison officers in the U.S.," see again. Not convinced? Okay, what about this argument? Mr. Womack said that tethers are even used with children. Says he: "You've probably been at a mall or airport and seen children on tethers; they're not being abused...You're keeping control of them...A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections...In Texas we'd lasso them and drag them out of there." Ah, ah, ah...we ain't "girlie men" in Texas! Want more? What about the fact that they took pictures "because no one did anything they thought was wrong?" 'Cus, see, if they had thought they were doing something "wrong," they wouldn't have taken pictures, right? You don't want to get potentially incriminating evidence, right? So, since they took the pictures, it means they thought they were not doing anything wrong -- maybe, they didn't even think...since they were not doing anything wrong in the first place... They lacked "awareness."
NOW, JUST IN CASE you might still experience an uneasy, uncomfortable feeling -- if you remember, or look again at the pictures, of course -- and have some doubts left regarding the innocence of these poor fellows (not the prisoners, mind you...the guards...the interrogators), then Mr. Womack can provide you with another famous line of reasoning (famous at least for those relatively familiar with the 1945-1949 Nuremberg trials): "[Spc. Graner] was doing his job. Following orders and being praised for it...", and "the more aggressive [the military police] became, the more information they got and the more praise they got."
IN SUMMARY, they did not know; they were not doing anything unusual -- that is not already done in the US prison system or in McMalls all over America; and they were following orders. As said, does it not look familiar?
COME ON, let's move on... As Graner said, "Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it's going to be on the positive side and I'm going to have a smile on my face" -- and 8 or 10 years in jail. But Graner was in the news largely due to the media circus around the US Senate confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales to become the next Attorney General. Graner, England, Frederick, Sivits, Davies, Harman and all the other underlings caught in this monstrosity are instruments of policies that were devised at the very top of the chain of command, policies that have been advocated, supported, and defended by intellectuals and pundits alike.
TAKE ONE OF the many neocon pundits that has pandered the torture line ad nauseam, Charles Krauthammer, a regular fixture on FOX News Sunday -- yeah, yeah, I watch FOX News here and there...always good to hear what the other side has to say...the Brit Humes, Bill Kristols, et al. of the bien-pensant crowd that paces the corridors of power (oyez, oyez, oyez, you can't accuse me of only listening to my own sirens, can you?). Anyway, Mr. Krauthammer, a strong proponent of torture in the name of security, had this to say on January 9, 2005 (I paraphrase): "If you have a prisoner, and if there is a nuclear bomb ready to explode in one hour, and if the prisoner knows about it...are you going to rough him up or not to get the information?" Seriously, that's the case he made on the idiotbox!
WOW, WHADDAYASAY, Mr. nay-sayer? Dunno... Personally, I'd call Bond, James Bond, agent 007 licensed to kill, who, with the help of Miss Moneypenny (say, Paris Hilton, another fixture of FOX) and possibly Jennifer Garner as the evil warrior, is famous for defusing nuclear bombs within 0.00001 second of planned Armageddon. Take that, Mr. Kraut (no offense intended to my German readers), I'd say.
BUT HONESTLY, how can one answer such a stupid question? You must have a prisoner (that's easy); you must know that there is a nuclear device somewhere ready to explode; you must know that the device will detonate in one hour; and you must know that the prisoner, that particular prisoner knows about the existence, location and timing of the WMD. Tall order, no? But one thing you do know, and the US military as well as many studies will confirm it, torture does not work; and one could add...especially on people you keep depicting as religious fanatics ready to sacrifice their lives in order to sit amongst a bunch of virgins in heaven. So go ahead, torture as much as you want, out of revenge, S&M, fun, total disregard for humanity, morality, ethics, the humanness of your opponents (they are gooks, aren't they?); torture to your heart's delight, but do not torture to seek "actionable intelligence," which is what you cannot obtain through these vile techniques (again, please check with the military services...not with the spooks...and not with god).
AND TAKE a good, penetrating look at those pictures again, Mr. Krauthammer et al., keeping in mind Guantánamo Bay, Camp Justice ("Camp Justice," for heaven's sake!) on Diego Garcia, Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan, as you journey along the Archipelago... Then, if you require additional clarification, visit the Records Released in Response to Torture FOIA Request, courtesy of the ACLU.
ENLIGHTENING, NO? Then, good souls -- there are many -- wonder how possible it is that one can drive along a highway, peacefully in the late evening, minding one's own business, and get stopped by a highway patrolman on the flimsiest of reason; be shouted at, faulted for one's country of birth, shackled, pushed and shoved by a "law enforcement" officer (they no longer are "peace officers"), eventually imprisoned for the night with one's canine companion impounded as a "stray" dog, and has to enter the labyrinth of the "Justice System" for months on end to attempt to clear one's name and debunk the fabricated "evidence," all the while spending thousands of dollars in the ongoing process. Quickly, enough, the good souls stop wondering...avoid the gaze -- it's too unpleasant a picture...Must be an aberration they suggest, as they gracefully retreat back to their comfort zone.
BUT, WHY AN ABERRATION? What's all the fuss about the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales of Geneva Conventions quaint and obsolete fame? What's this uproar from the loyal opposition in regard to a series of memoranda approved or signed or vetted by Mr. Gonzales to put a patina of legalese to justify and authorize abusive and violent interrogation techniques? Why the simulacra of surprise and shock when Mr. Gonzales refuses to answer whether the president is above the law (has Mr. Bush not said that he was answering to "higher" authorities?)?
COULD THE Democrats look back at the year 1994, when they were in the driving seat? That very year the U.S. Senate ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, about which, Chicago researcher David Peterson recently commented,
On June 3, 1994, the Clinton administration deposited an official Reservation with the UN Secretary-General, informing his office that with respect to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (this Convention entered into force on June 26, 1987, and was ratified by the American senate on Oct. 21, 1994), "nothing in this Convention requires or authorizes legislation, or other action, by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States" -- as effective an abrogation of the Convention as anything the Bush Administration's memoranda-binge has accomplished. (In case anyone thinks the [U.S. government] started condoning, sponsoring, and practicing torture sometime after September 11, 2001.)
BUT GO FURTHER, and carefully read the "Declarations and Reservations" the Senate made at the time (scroll down to "United States Of America" -- about 25 percent down the page). So, the Clinton administration not only officially stated that nothing pertaining to the Convention would be applicable if it contradicted US laws *as interpreted* by the U.S., but the Senate further narrowed the scope of the Convention and went on to define (restrict) what, from the Convention, would be applicable to the U.S. (and, consequently, what would not).
IT IS INTERESTING to note, for example, how the U.S. put a caveat to Art. 16, which specifies "acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" by interpreting this to mean "the cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment or punishment." In other words, a cruel act considered usual, as interpreted by the U.S., will not be deemed as pertaining to the Convention. (Right here, this may explain the post-9/11 efforts of the Bush administration to redefine torture with Messrs. Bybee, Gonzales, et al. memoranda -- they even have redefined a Prisoner of War as an "Enemy Prisoner of War," because I surmise that they might imagine one day going to war against friends, and we'll then have "Friend Prisoner of War!)
LOOK ALSO at how the U.S. is watering down Art. 1, which is really the cornerstone of the entire Convention -- that is the very meaning of the term "torture." It has to be intentional; it has to be prolonged; it has to be calculated; etc. All restrictive words that open the door to deniability.
FURTHERMORE, Art. 1 is construed by the U.S. only when the "tortured" is clearly in the custody of the U.S., which legally opens a can of worms (oops, sorry, we are here -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- at the invitation of the national governments, which have judicial responsibility, etc..), and pretty much invalidate Art. 3.
MOREOVER, to be applicable, the alleged "torturer" must have "awareness of such activity and thereafter breach his legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such activity." Here again deniability for lack of awareness (that's the point I referred to at the beginning of these blips, and the defense used by Mr. Womack for his client)
OF COURSE, the death penalty is not cruel punishment since it's usual... (Still, note that they specifically make this exception.)
AND THEY make sure that only the competent authorities of the U.S. can take appropriate measures to fulfill the Convention.
FINALLY, once the content has essentially been gutted -- "the provisions of articles 1 through 16 of the Convention are not self-executing" -- the U.S. in its benevolence is hereby ratifying and joining the Convention. Pardon the irony, s'il vous plait. (On torture and its Orwellian definition (as well as on many other issues), I strongly recommend everybody to read Tom Engelhardt at tomdispatch.com.)
POST SCRIPTUM: Check out The International Herald Tribune of January 14, 2005, in which Douglas Jehl and David Johnston expose how "Congress killed measures to ban U.S. use of torture." Both Democrats and Republicans agreed, on the White House and Pentagon prodding, "to scrap a legislative measure that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by U.S. intelligence officers." Their report ends: "A new opinion made public late last month, signed by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, explicitly rejected torture and adopted more restrictive standards to define it... But a cryptic footnote to the new document about the 'treatment of detainees' referred to what the officials said were other still-classified opinions. The footnote meant, the officials said, that coercive techniques were still lawful."
WHAT DON'T you understand?
OKAY, LET'S HAVE a breather: Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian offered his "Offies 2004," the "annual Off-Guard Awards for the most stupid, silly, and bizarre acts and events of 2004." He begins thusly:
IT'S BEEN A banner year in the Offies League. The level of national political discourse has risen to "shove it," "fuck off," and "girlie men." The mayor's wife described the size of his genitals at a public event. The governor discussed his (lack of a) sex life with reporters. The president asked on live TV if anybody might "need some wood." Martha Stewart compared herself to Nelson Mandela.
It's a good thing we don't have to make this stuff up.
READ THE hilarious collection at http://www.sfbg.com/39/14/cover_offies.html.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, of the Gray Lady, is appalled by the infant mortality in the U.S. Writes Kristof ("Health Care? Ask Cuba" New York Times OP-ED, 01/12/05):
Here's a wrenching fact: If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.
Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S.
ALSO NOTING Beijing has an infant mortality rate of 4.6 per thousand, in contrast to 6.5 for New York City, Kristof strikingly concludes: "It's simply unacceptable that the average baby is less likely to survive in the U.S. than in Beijing or Havana." More striking however, and left untold in his story, is that Cuban achievements come at a fraction of the US cost -- total health expenditure per capita (Intl $, 2001): U.S. 4,887 - Cuba 229 (source: WHO - The world health report 2003).
THE SAME CAN be said about Cuban organic farming, whose yield per acre is higher than that of U.S. corporate agribusiness, without the resulting soil depletion and, again, at a fraction of the US cost.
IN ADDITION, Mr. Kristof celebrates the "freedom that we enjoy" (in comparison to China's ruthless dictatorship and autocratic Cuba), but he forgets to mention that the U.S. has the largest documented prison population in the world, according to the International Center for Prison Studies (King's College, London, UK). With 5% of the world's population, we account for 25% of its prison population. Perhaps, someone could direct Nicholas Kristof (or his assistant) to "America #1 -- Score Card 2004" so that they may further deepen their knowledge of actualities...
THINKING OF IT, why is it unacceptable that the infant mortality is higher in the U.S. than in Cuba? Or, put it slightly differently, would Kristof find it acceptable were Cuban infant mortality higher than in the U.S.? Err, please excuse my twisted mind -- it's an inherent French deformity!
BUT, REALLY, is there not an innate arrogance in his formulation? An arrogance also found in Academia at times... Take for instance the "Open Letter to Hugo Chávez On the Detention of Rodrigo Granda," signed, among others, by the cream of the US tenured left (should I say "old left?"). It's a friendly letter, written in English while President Chávez's idiom is Spanish, assuring him of solidarity and friendship -- "We write to you as persons who are in solidarity with your anti-imperialist politics and with the important social transformations that your government is developing for the well being of the majority of Venezuelans." -- and then goes on to diss the man, based upon information that "one has been able to establish by reliable sources." Reliable sources? Sure, and Marlise Simons too had "reliable sources." Then the letter goes into overtime with innuendoes and accusations that, of course, only those-in-the-know, the initiated, will believe wholeheartedly. Bad boy, bad boy, bad boy, you are Mr. Chávez, and we, in the name of our superior knowledge are reminding you of the right way... I mean, Fidel Castro must be laughing bon-enfantly, he who's been the object of countless letters and petitions originating with the same crowd.
THE PROBLEM, as I see it, is not that they are bashing Hugo Chávez -- he does not give a hoot -- but that they are using the same techniques as The New York Times or, for that matter Foggy Bottom ("reliable sources"); they are pontificating and telling him how to behave; and they are providing plenty of ammo to, first the Cruise Missile Left, second the Lib-Labs, and finally all the way to the powers-that-be. I can imagine Baby Bush with his genial smirk, announcing from the Rose Garden that he is sending Negroponte to Caracas. [Improvisation] "The man has had huge success in Honduras, and Iraq. Now is the time to help Freedom and Democracy in Venezuela," adding, "even Noam Chomsky, a great American by the way, a man who will openly tell you that America is the best country in the world, agrees with me."
I DON'T KNOW, really do not, yet at times I wonder what those people are really about -- especially, when five days after they had dispatched their letter, the BBC (see, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4160341.stm) reported that Chávez was smelling a rat and that Rodrigo Granda, known as the FARC's (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) unofficial foreign minister, appeared to have been kidnapped in Caracas by Colombian forces and possibly with the assistance of "members of Venezuela's own security forces [that] may have colluded in the alleged kidnapping."
THESE ARE muddy waters, indeed... Why then do Noam Chomsky, James Petras, William Blum, et al. take a bath in that dirty environment, all the while keeping safe in their respective lofty sinecure? It blows my mind!
PERHAPS Arundhati Roy will have the opportunity to whisper in Noam's ear one of these days: "Noam, let us speak for ourselves. Don't tell us what we should and should not do. You've done so much in your lifetime to educate us all, please don't let idiotic letters and petitions burnish your legacy. Please, tell your much admired comrades..." Is it too much to ask?
SPEAKING OF possible co-optation versus actual one, here is an example of the latter: Armstrong Williams, arch-conservative commentator (The Washington Times, The Detroit Free Press, etc.) got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Mr. Williams received a "modest" stipend from the Department of Education -- $240,000 -- to, in the words of Frank Rich ("All the President's Newsmen," The New York Times, January 16, 2005), "shill for the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind policy in various media venues during an election year." How many columnists and commentators and activists of all swipes get stipends? What does it tell you about our culture? "This happens all the time..." said Williams. Writes Rich, "Mr. Williams, meanwhile, has told both James Rainey of The Los Angeles Times and David Corn of The Nation that he has 'no doubt' that there are 'others' like him being paid for purveying administration propaganda." The question on my mind is not who is on the take but who is not? Remember, everything and everybody has become a commodity... (My father once offered me money not to see me anymore...I did not take his money...and I never saw him again...I guess I was an idiot...at least I could have profited from the emotional castration.)
THIS SAID, could the paper of record bring Frank Rich back to the OP-ED section? Even if he were on the take, I still would read him religiously. He is at the very top of the chart, bare none, in regards to the New York Times employed writers. Maureen Dowd is up there too, but no one matches the wit and the depth of Frank Rich... Say, let him write his bi-weekly "arts" column and one weekly Op-Ed. Pay the man $240,000 a year, if necessary...
WANT TO BE CO-OPTED? Need a few bucks? Talk to George Soros. He and a few other progressive, liberal billionaires are going to donate tens of millions of dollars to develop progressive ideas in the U.S. -- and abroad. They want to foster progressive ideas and progressive people, like Soros has done in Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia for so long... I admire their generosity. Please write a check in the order of Swans, P.O. Box 267, Boonville, California, 95415. This month, John Steppling and Anna Kuros are struggling to pay their rent. I could use the money, for them to use it....if you see what I mean.
HOW MUCH are we spending on Mr. Bush's "inauguration?" $40 million and counting... I hear the private sector is financing much of it... Praise the lord, a new prayer will be uttered.
I'VE ALSO HEARD from my neighbor that what is befalling the U.S. is that we have forgotten about god. See, if god does not exist, then everything is possible -- everything's arguable. Yes, indeed, why not the survival of the fittest? she posits. If there is no god, then everything is in the offing... Neighbor, welcome to Sade! What else can one say?
AN EAST COAST liberal "friend" of mine tells me that I am "fucking his mind." An East Coast arch-fundie-conservative "friend" of mine tells me that I should follow my logic and get the hell out of this country (with Jan, and Priam, and the three cats and the three chickens? Should the millions who deeply oppose the tailspin direction this country has taken leave the country, be deported, or incarcerated, Kevin?), and goes on whining about how come we, the minority, do not humbly listen to them, the majority, in their infinite wisdom. It deeply hurts his feelings, he says. Gosh, fucked minds, hurt feelings...maybe they should get together to commiserate!
I LOVE a pig-headed guy, a "daddy's little cum bucket," a "squealing little slut-pig." They make me think of Dick and Georgie and other "friends." (No idea where this one comes from!)
QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "It's all the same fucking shit, man"
ANOTHER QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country."
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
BOONVILLE NEWS: The Anderson Valley Advertiser is slowly permuting into a Chamber of Commerce rag and becoming much less controversial than it was under Bruce Anderson's editorship, thus reflecting the quieter, humming temperament of its new editor, the congenial David Severn.
Nothing wrong with that, but the paper is becoming utterly boring...
Well, it's been raining dogs and cats for two weeks. Result: Another 100+-year old oak tree has fallen. More wood for our stove, but still, it will take 100+ years to replace... We won't be here, of course to see the outcome... Still, we are replanting like crazy. Twenty-plus trees are awaiting us at our down-the-road nursery, that of Greg and Wendy Ludwig. Plenty of holes to dig... Fortunately, Natcho is back from Mexico where he went to spend the holidays. He has no status here -- except that of an illegal immigrant -- but he crossed the border back to the U.S. quite legally, sleeping in the back seat of a car!
Got a phone call on Saturday from First American Home Buyers Protection Corporation. It took them close to four months to deal with the claim that our electrical wiring had been subjected to a fire and resulted in a dangerous situation. It took them close to two months to relate to Mr. Kerrent of Ukiah's Kerrent Electric (a one-man show), who, when he came up, remember, almost lost his truck on our dirt road, which had to be fixed by Craig Titus at a healthy cost to us. Well, the representative of the insurance company advised us that, all considered, they were not covering such damages.
As I told her: "No worry, we've already had Rick Crabb and Bob Morgan fix the problem (forget the price tag). We have not renewed the policy as we are tired of scammers like you. Meanwhile, will you pay for your Mr. Kerrent's damage to the road?" The phone line went blank. I hung up. Of course, they won't pay!
Bijou, our 16-year-old cat, contracted an eye parasite. Jan brought her to the vet, the kind Dr. Chaulk, who shares his time between San Bruno and Boonville weekly (been doing so since 1984). He'd never in his career seen this parasite infection, which required carefully removing about ten half-inch-long worms from Bijou's left eye. The Anderson Valley has much to offer, it seems -- the good, the bad, and the worms...
How more human can it get?
And so it goes...