Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waterboarding is Not Surfing

Debating issues long-resolved is not progress.

That’s why the fact intelligent and sensitive people taking up their cudgels against torture does little to warm the heart’s cockles.

Sure, somebody’s got to do it and so we are grateful Evan Wallach tried in Sunday’s “Washington Post,” although the title of his Op-ed, “Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime,” says it all.

In this unfortunate, but necessary, piece the former JAG (military lawyer) writes about how he used to lecture soldiers on their legal obligations where guarded prisoners were concerned. “I’d always conclude by saying, ‘[J]ust remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have other do unto you’.”

He goes on to note that our newspapers and television/radio broadcasters have gotten into the habit of saying waterboarding “simulates” drowning.

Not surprisingly, given the corporate, suck-up posture of current day reporters, that’s not at all true.

At least according to Wallace, who has more of a background in this stuff than the highway scribe.

“To be effective,” he explains, “waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: the struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut...”


“...The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”

The article, which you should read if you want a difficult time sleeping tonight, discusses how variations on the technique were used upon American soldiers and how we, as a country, tried and jailed its practitioners.

So we’ve been here, and thanks to the corrosive and mindless policies of the Bush cabal, we’re back. The focal point this time is w.’s nominee for attorney general of the United States. Named Mukasey, he is a man who can’t bring himself to say that waterboarding is torture largely because that would implicate his future bosses in all kinds of legal trouble and ultimately drop them in jail.

Above is a picture of some waterboarding by U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam. What does it look like to you?

A few weeks ago, “Frontline” covered anew the much-tilled territory of how the United States got into the torture business, smearing its own good name, endangering its own soldiers abroad, and making more vulnerable we denizens of the “homeland” (hate that term).

One sequence involved the all-too-familiar observation that, “after 9-11, we were clearly in uncharted territory.”

Popular and universal as the sentiment may be across the land, it is patently wrong (sayeth the highway scribe).

As Al Gore noted in his scathing critique of the (w) regime, “The Assault on Reason,”

“It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. In spite of the dangers they confronted, they faithfully protected our freedoms. It is up to us to do the same.”

Somebody should tell it to Rudy Giuliani, who according to Richard Cohen’s piece, also in “The Post” and entitled, “Rudy’s Torture Talk,” had this to say at a recent Republican debate: “They talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly.”

Actually, we’re the ones being tortured by his running for president, but the scribe digresses and prefers to leave the stage, momentarily, to Cohen, who noted that, "[I]n the chest-beating contest that has become the GOP presidential race, neither the efficacy of torture nor the damage it has done to America’s public image is questioned much.”

He observed that along with Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have no problem with the extra-territorial gulag maintained by taxpayer funds at Guatánamo Bay, Cuba and, diverging even from the Bush administration, would like to see it stay open.

Writes Cohen, “John McCain, who is understandably appalled by the casual advocacy of torture, noted that Giuliani and the others in the GOP field come by their faux toughness without benefit of military service. This is a fair point, because as both McCain and Colin Powell have noted, all a POW has going for him is the hope of reciprocity. If we don’t torture, maybe the won’t either.

“This means nothing to Giuliani. He rebutted McCain with one of his signature your-mother-wears-a-mustache responses. McCain, he said, has ‘never run a city, never run a state, never run a government’.”

Of course it could be argued neither has Giuliani. If his plunging into the toxic dust of ground zero had not contrasted so starkly with the absent commander in chief on that fateful day, Rudy would have left office some months later as the worst and least-liked mayor in New York history.

But we already know what Osama Bin-Laden did for repressive republicans and over-the-top law and order types all over the country.

You may have noticed the highway scribe is posting with less regularity on this blog. That’s because it is a time-hog and because with the current president’s term shrinking to a very finite quantity of time, the necessity of railing against him has diminished in-kind.

But this gentlemen Giuliani (the scribe uses the term loosely and out of courtesy) is bad news and he is coming down the pike, folks.

All the signs are there, the credible warnings of journalists like Cohen, the discouraging adherence of apolitical and uninformed voters to Giuliani’s 9/11 demagoguery, and his own conscienceless cynicism, make it seem like 2000, when they were pushing the son of a recent president as some kind of newfangled, outsider “reformer.”

He is bad news, this former unpopular mayor inflating bogeymen and his strategy is working, what with Christiano-fascists like Pat Robertson getting behind him because “national security” trumps all, even that quadrennial red-herring...THE RIGHT TO LIFE.

With all their failures and ineptitude, Republicans can win on this issue if voters don’t take the highway scribe’s words to heart: Islamo-fascists are not going to take over the country nor end your “way of life.” There are ways of dealing with the dissociated and far-flung nutboxes, but your leaders are not interested in employing them. This generation of fundamentalist hordes may hate you and may blow up a disco now and again, but your chances of being killed by a terrorist are less, by far, than dying in a car crash. Your national security is more threatened from within by right-wing elements, long dominant, who don’t give a twig for democracy or your rights, than from without. The devaluation of both over the years and your own shrugging away of their importance are the proof in the pudding.

Giuliani and his politics of fear are only the latest re-generation of the same old product: fear.

He offers nothing but repression, glib irresponsibility as some “new” kind of approach to politics, and a back story of meanness and self-love.