Brass in Pocket, Blood on the Tracks

The only defense for the indefensible is to be offensive, it seems. The Bush Faction has obviously decided to stop refuting allegations about torture and just openly embrace the heinous practice instead. You've got Bush vowing to veto torture restrictions, you've got Cheney twisting arms on Capitol Hill to preserve the Faction's inalienable right to beat people to death -- and now you've got Condi Rice traipsing off to Europe to tell America's allies to stop all their whining about extraordinary rendition, secret prisons and the CIA kidnapping people in their countries.

In a remarkable display of brass, Rice tried to have it both ways, both denying that the U.S. tortures anyone then saying that American "interrogation techniques" have saved European lives by thwarting terrorist plots. She offered no proof of this, of course, and she said nothing at all about the growing number of innocent people caught up in the rendition process. (This is a well-known diplomatic technique: if you just close your eyes and pretend something isn't there, why, it just goes away! Metternich used it all the time.) Basically, Condi's message to the Eurosissies boiled down to this: "We're saving your sorry butts with our rough stuff, so shut up already."

But doubtless to her great surprise, Condi is finding that the usual Bushist shtick of playing the 9/11 card -- "Whatever we do is OK because we're keeping the terrorists from getting you!" -- doesn't work on the other side of the water. (Except with the yappy little lapdog Tony Blair, of course, who is bidding fair to outdo his master in stripping away ancient liberties and ruling solely by fear.) The Europeans have dealt with terrorism for decades -- centuries -- and don't require lessons from Crawford clodhoppers on the subject. They are also past masters at recognizing bullshit -- having dispensed so much of it down through the ages -- so Condi's heaping helpings of hokum are falling flat.

But what is most surprising is that even the Washington Post's editorialists -- of all people -- have also got Condi's number. The Post is infamous for its heroic contortions in defense of Bushist miscreancy, but in a piece on Rice's rendition rhetoric, the paper nailed it solid:

[Excerpt]: In an attempt to quell a growing storm in Europe over the CIA's secret prisons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday issued a defense based on the same legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk that led the Bush administration into a swamp of human rights abuses in the first place. Ms. Rice insisted that the U.S. government "does not authorize or condone torture" of detainees. What she didn't say is that President Bush's political appointees have redefined the term "torture" so that it does not cover practices, such as simulated drowning, mock execution and "cold cells," that have long been considered abusive by authorities such as her State Department.

Ms. Rice said, "It is also U.S. policy that authorized interrogation will be consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." What she didn't explain is that, under this administration's eccentric definition of "U.S. obligations," cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not prohibited as long as it does not occur on U.S. territory. That is the reason for the secret prisons that the CIA has established in European countries and other locations around the world, and for the "renditions" of detainees to countries such as Egypt and Jordan: so that the administration can violate the very treaty Ms. Rice claims it is upholding.[End excerpt]

If the Bushists have lost the well-wadded, ever-deferential conventional wisdom-peddlers on the Washington Post editorial board, they really are in trouble.

Next is a Guardian roundup of human rights experts giving their view on Rice's tortured reasoning, with the admirably straightforward headline: "US defence of tactic makes no sense, say legal experts." A few choice quotes:

[Excerpt]: Her assurances that spiriting terror suspects away to clandestine prisons is a legitimate tactic did not carry much weight with human rights organisations or legal scholars yesterday. They argued that the sole use of extraordinary rendition was to transport a suspect to a locale that was beyond the reach of the law - and so at risk of torture.

"The argument makes no sense unless there is an assumption that the purpose of rendition is to send people to a place where things could be done to them that could not be done in the United States," said David Luban, a law professor at Georgetown University who is presently a visiting professor at Stanford University. "Rendition doesn't become a tool in the war against terror unless people are being sent to a place where they can be interrogated harshly."

..."The reason she is able to say that the United States does not engage in torture is that the administration has redefined torture to exclude any technique that they use," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "What makes this awkward for Secretary Rice is that the state department has continued to condemn as torture techniques such as waterboarding when they are used by other countries - in other words the very techniques the CIA has used against these high level detainees."

Other critics noted yesterday that the utility of information gathered under duress was also unclear. Some intelligence gathered from such suspects has proved unreliable most notoriously in the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who told his interrogators before the war in Iraq that Saddam Hussein's regime was training al-Qaida terrorists in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted, but the flawed intelligence was used by the then secretary of state, Colin Powell, in March 2003 to make his case for war to the United Nations. [End excerpt]

Ah, but here I must dissent from these learned Thebans. It is most incorrect to say that the information gleaned from whomping the tarwater out of al-Libi lacked utility. On the contrary, it was precisely what was required for the successful promulgation of Administration policy. The false connection between Saddam and 9/11 was perhaps the most crucial element in the deliberate manipulation of public opinion in favor of the war. As no real evidence for the connection existed, it had to be manufactured. And as any bent cop or crooked prosecutor will tell you, a false confession is the best way to sell a rotten case.

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