Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Verschärfte Vernehmung"

In Sunday's New York Times Frank Rich wrote:

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page. . . .

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin. . . .

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

I haven't written much about the Bush administration of late, in part out of a frustration and boiling anger that have prevented me from writing with little more than curses and scabrous invective. That this administration is rotten to its core is not in doubt. As Frank Rich points out, however, what is in doubt is the soul of our nation. Will we have the moral wherewithal to address the legacy of Bush crimes? Will the American people elect a President in 2008 who will commit to making a 180 degree reverse in policy to turn our nation from the fascist path down which Bush and his supporters have led us? That remains to be seen. Or will we be like the "good Germans" mentioned by Frank Rich - Germans who may have disagreed with Hitler and the Nazis but said nothing in opposition to the tactics of the Gestapo nor rose up in opposition to the genocide of the Holocaust.

One hopes that Americans' lack of interest and outrage over the torture issue - and the war in general - are a product of Bush's propaganda campaign to misinform the nation about administration policies and the state of the conflict. In that sense, the White House has used the media as masterfully as Goebbels commandeered the German press in the 1930s. (Having adopted many of the political tactics employed by Hitler and the Nazis, one shouldn't be surprised then that the administration would condone "enhanced interrogation" - the "Verschärfte Vernehmung" mentioned in Frank Rich's editorial - in its treatment of prisoners.)

Yet one suspects that Americans' disinterest is simply a product of apathy. Americans just don't care. Or they're closing their eyes and collectively wishing the problem would go away or resolve itself. In the end, average Americans, enveloped in a voyeuristic haze no less numbing than the smoke of an opium den, seem more concerned about O.J. Simpson, Britney Spears, or the latest reality TV sensation. Why concern oneself with presidential debates, charges of torture, or judicial corruption, when one can tune in to the latest installment of The Bachelor or Dancing With the Stars, thus avoiding any kind of emotional or intellectual challenge beyond crocodile tears for the ousted and tearful bride-to-be?

Unfortunately we have over 400 days left in this White House train wreck. And given the ability of this administration to weather nearly every crisis, one has to be pessimistic for the country's future. Having fallen so far from the tree of liberty, planted over 200 years ago, we should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation. Removing Bush and Cheney from office before their 400+ days expire, we should apologize to the world and labor to right the wrongs of the Bush years.

No comments: