Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Craziest Republican of the Day: Kit Bond

By Michael J.W. Stickings

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Asked by Gwen Ifill on yesterday's NewsHour (PBS) whether waterboarding "constitutes torture," Missouri Senator Kit Bond offered this apalling analogy (via TP):

There are different ways of doing it. It's like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that's beside the point. It's not being used.

Bond noted that he would "certainly would not favor it in any circumstance" -- meaning, presumably, that he is against the use of waterboarding generally -- but comparing it to swimming only serves to diminish it, that is, to make it seem harmless, even fun, nothing like torture at all, which is precisely the argument made by those who are defending its use: it gets the job done, but it's not so bad -- which hardly makes any sense at all, when you think about it, because if it works at all, that is, if it breaks the person being interrogated, it must be pretty bad. Which is to not to say that it is effective, just that it must be torturously compelling.

Regardless, it is torture, and it is pretty awful. Bond can diminish it all he wants, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. Those who have actually been involved with it, those who have experienced it, conducted it, and witnessed it, know better.

But at least Bond seemed to come out against it. The Bush Administration has denied that the U.S. tortures, but it has sanctioned the use of warterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques (and it has denied that waterboarding is torture because it continues to deny that it tortures). Cheney has defended its use, all it is a "no-brainer," and he is hardly alone not only in defending it but in diminishing it, in making it seem harmless, or, rather, just harmful enough, something like the Goldilocks of enhanced interrogation (remember, they can't call it torture, lest they admit to being liars and torturers).

In a recent interview with ABC News's Brian Ross, former CIA agent John Kiriakou described the interrogation -- including the waterboarding -- of Abu Zubaydah. (See Andrew Sullivan's comments on the interview.) It may or may not have worked, and may or may not have been necessary, but the point is that the U.S. tortures. In an editorial in response to the interview, The Altanta Journal-Constitution explained what it means:

Two facts, neither of which is disputable:

1) CIA agents tortured suspected agents of al-Qaida, and they did so under the orders of top officials in the Bush administration, most likely including President Bush himself.

2) Under federal law, any U.S. official who engages in torture, or who approves or facilitates torture, is guilty of a felony. The law provides no exceptions.

Of course, there is no real news in any of that. Events of the last few days — an on-the-record confession by a CIA interrogator, acknowledging the torture; an admission by the CIA itself that the torture was approved by the White House and Justice Department, and that it destroyed videotaped evidence of the torture sessions — haven't changed much. They merely stripped away the flimsy gauze of deniability from what we knew was there all along but preferred not to acknowledge.

*****

ourselves as upholding. We lost almost 300,000 troops in World War II, a struggle for national survival against two powerful empires, yet we did not stoop to sanctioned torture. In the Cold War we faced nuclear oblivion at the hands of the Soviet Union, but again torture was not among the officially sanctioned weapons we deployed to preserve ourselves.

But this time, under far less threat, we broke our own laws and voluntarily forfeited the moral high ground that is so important if we are to prevail in this struggle. Fear drove us to sacrifice long-term advantage in return for illusory, short-term security, and that doesn't speak well for us as a people.

No, it doesn't. (Although the AJC whitewashes U.S. conduct during the Cold War.) And it puts the U.S. right alongside some of history's most abhorrent regimes.

This is what America has become under George W. Bush.

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