We Do Torture

By Robert S. Becker

11/16/05 "
ICH " -- -- “We do not torture,” broadcasts the president, adding the next memorable signpost for his troubled tenure. Four simple words but they represent the most telling admission about his insular administration, I propose, since the just slightly premature “Mission Accomplished” boast. That claim now seems as antiquated as American prestige and as distant as “bin Laden: dead or alive.”

Put aside the shocking falsity of Mr. Bush’s claim: Do pictures lie? American forces have, are, and, if VP of torture Dick Cheney manages to bully the Senate, will continue to torture, abusing constitutional, civil, and physical rights of detainees during our deluded, shotgun “war on terror.”

Put aside that George Bush, the most uncurious, bunkered president in ages, appears not to ask the right questions of the right people (starting with his own staff!). Who exactly is left to tell the president whether his government agents torture or not, nor explain the basic distinction between barbaric, “cruel and inhuman” torture vs. proposed emergency tactics no worse than “degrading” or abusive?

Thus, even if the president had moral stature to deny torture, how many Americans remain willing to believe one more Bush lie? Who many of us would have confidence Bush would know about torturne one way or the other? General Karpinski, the scapegoat who oversaw Abu Ghraib, the worst kind of national scar thanks to graphic photos, asserts Pentagon officials had to know, even condone torture and worse.

So who has a clue what Bush knows – or cares about? Certainly no staffer wants to explain to anyone, to reverse the historic Watergate question, “what does the president NOT know and for how long hasn’t he known it.” One senses, after the Libby indictment, what Bush doesn’t know about his own White House would fille volumes.

So, the president’s credibility and moral stature aside, I have only one question about “We do not torture.” To adapt a line from the movie “The Wild Bunch” (“Who the hell is they?” referring to anonymous agents of disaster), I ask: “Who the hell is we”?

Distinct from numberless administration outrages (an insurgency in its “last throes”), this whopper alienated me in a new way. Certainly, one expects spin, especially after the manipulated war frenzy against Saddam Hussein has been stymied for years by ill-trained, backalley insurgents searching out explosives in caves or under rocks.

One deals with truth as the first victim of war, even an administration which wars on truth – and, sadely, with more notable success at home than in battle. Failures require more spin than normal, but where does the president get off daring to speak for “we”? 60% of Americans no longer believe he’s honest, let alone justified in wasting American lives in Iraq.

Is it not time to draw the line and say here and now: Bush does torture, even on Americans. I feel tortured by the wrong war in the wrong place, daily death counts, and now a president daring to speak for all of us, as if the manipulated election was a true mandate!

So, here’s my ultimatum. You want to lie, Mr. President, do it in your terms and about things you know something. Stop lying in our name. You probably will remain president for three more years, so is too much to demand: speak for yourself, not the growing majority who cringe when you pop up on TV or feel profound embarrassment when you bully less powerful nations?

Where’s the silent majority when we need it, ready to again defend America as the beacon of freedom, not beacon of torture, brute power, and demonstrably false statements? One dreads tomorrow’s news, for example, whole countries secretly taken over by the CIA to house suspect detainees.

So, Mr. President, if you want to torture the truth and the English language and majority will, stick to your own terms. Otherwise, you abuse and degrade loyal Americans who never endorsed your invasion and are horrified by a war America will certainly lose, just as it lost in Vietnam, both in the field and in the world of public opinion.

Again, borrowing from Hollywood, I say: count me out. I even dream of the day I can tell my children (or grandchildren), “We don’t do Bush” anymore.

Robert S. Becker, Ph.D., free-lance writer -

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