Sunday, June 7, 2009
So much has been going on in the world (and right here at home), I haven't managed to write a word this week, partly for not knowing where, with so many sky-high possibilities, to even begin. I've barely had time to sit down on my new sofa, and have been sleeping like a giraffe (for only two hours a night, according to some sources). Constantly tracking everything has become a full-time job, but I'm happy to be doing it, because the world narrative these days is one continuous rave, its many facets glowing like a disco glitter ball.
Slow down. Observe. Position yourself. Long enough to see what's really needed.
This week found the Prez in Cairo, defying all the safety locks as usual, stunningly radiant and fabulously iconic as always, redemptive with his words (including dromedary phrases in Arabic and a luxurious orgy of quotations from the Koran, Bible, and Talmud), and winning Muslim hearts by declaring that the Pyramids were "even better" than Five Guys. Who, I ask, could possibly top this?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rush and the former Congressman Tom Tamcredo compared Supreme Court noninee Sonia Sotomayor favorably to members of the KKK; Dick Cheney was everywhere, bashing Obama, and trying to rewrite the history of torture as practiced under the Bush administration. As Maureen Dowd so aimiably put it:
“The punks thought they could roll over us...Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
North Korea was busily shooting off missiles; Iran was gearing up for an election that could, if the world should be so lucky, put paid to that goofball Ahmadinejad once and for all. Or not. Frank Rich in the New York Times deliciously referred to Rush, Newt, and Dick as "the trio of Pillsbury doughboys now leading the [Republican] party." Tsampa wrote Jane from Nepal about the dzi bead he bought in Roanoke, which has proved to be not only authentic, but on a par with two of the most significant dzi's in existence, impressive enough to be offered to the Dalai Lama. And today, Sasha Obama celebrated her eighth birthday in Paris.
But what got my attention over all of this cacaphony was Dick Cheney's claim that criminalizing a previous administration for its policies sets an outrageous precedent, especially when you are unraveling "the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11." Obama seems more than willing to unravel the policies--but much less willing to criminalize them. I find myself seriously questioring whether he is right.
Then I saw the documentary on PBS that Bill Moyers showed about a week ago, reconstructing in minute detail how the Bush administration (orchestrated by Cheney) came to authorize torture. Shortly after that, I read Jonathan Schell's recent essay, "Torture and Truth," in The Nation. Suddenly all the particles began looking more like a solid than a wave--a hard-edged, must-write-about-this kind of entity. Not like when the smell of roses meets the nose, but more the marble table when it meets the shin. Like when the rubber finally meets the road.
Schell starts off by also seriously questioning Obama's desire to concentrate on the "future" rather than the "past," so as to get it right from now on. The Bush administration, Schell explains, "hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein."
The torture practices authorized by the White House, Justice Department, and the Pentagon in 2002 were not, according to Schell, for the purpose of preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. They were used in an attempt to find a smoking gun that would link Iraq with Al Qaeda.
As I'm reading this, I'm thinking: this is huge! Illegal practices instituted to force-find illegitimate justification for an illegal war of preemption. These are not "policies"--these are, indisputably, crimes.
It was Colin Powell who carried out the dirty work: he conveyed the perjured testimony exacted by torture to the world, via his unforgettable speech of pitch-perfect lies at the U.N. Security Council shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Many of us of knew at the time he was lying, but there was no way to prove it. And anyway, it didn't matter. The plan for the invasion was already a done deal.
"The war," writes Schell, "as we learned later from the photos of Abu Graib, produced torture. But before that happened, torture had produced the war." This is, of course, the very narrative (the) Dick is now preempting in order to escape any accountability. Schell cites a cartoon in the Washington Post in which a torturer stands over his victim, who is on his back on a waterboard. The torturer says, "There's a problem of getting false information." Cheney, standing next to him responds, "Problem?"
As for the issue of "criminalizing [a previous administration's] policy decisions," Schell topples (the)
Dick's case with no uncertainty: "Those who really criminalized policy--that is, those who ordered crimes as a matter of policy--are given immunity by charging those who would prosecute the crimes with criminalizing." Bingo! Schell then concludes: "Better to look the torture in the face and having looked, to remember, and having remembered, to respond, and having responded, to call those responsible to account so that we never do this again."
I think there will be no escaping this wretched story as it slowly but inevitably seeps into the cultural bloodstream, even if our dear Prez does not want to appear as if he is wasting his time trying to squash a roach when more important things are calling.