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October 05, 2007

"We Don't Torture"
Posted by Michael Cohen

George Orwell would really get a kick out of the Bush Administration and its public stance on the use of torture.

This morning, President Bush said once again that "We do not torture." It's kind of like saying the sky is green.

Every piece of evidence that comes out about this Administration, including yesterday's NYT piece on secret DoJ memos sanctioning torture demonstrates otherwise. Yet, President Bush and his enablers keep repeating the same mantra "We do not torture" over and over again as if just saying these words makes it true.

Yet, as audaciously duplicitous as the "We do not torture" mantra has become, it pales next to the vile comments that Dana Perino made at the White House press briefing yesterday:

It's quite a testament that even though we have a sworn enemy of the United States that has declared war on us and . . killed thousands of our own citizens  . . we are still having a debate to talk about how we should make sure that we treat people, and that we don't torture them. That is quite a testament to this country. And the President is very proud to lead it.

This is simply beyond offensive. The thing is, we did have a public debate about torture in this country and in 2004, the Department of Justice publicly issued a legal opinion declaring torture "abhorrent." Then several months later, away from the prying eyes of Congress and the American people, the Department of Justice put out another secret legal opinion, which not only sanctioned torture but "provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

Apparently, this is what qualifies as a 'national debate' by the Bush Administration.

Basically what you have here is the White House spokesperson extolling the virtues of our democratic system of government at the same time that the Administration she works for is secretly and systematically undermining those same democratic institutions.

But don't worry, "We Don't Torture."


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But don't worry,

the U.S.A. is a "inherent good country".

There's another level of scariness behind the blatantly misleading nature of Perino's remarks. To Perino, it's happy, and somewhat surprising, that we haven't fully embraced torture six years after 9-11. Does that worry anyone else? It's as though she's happy to have things this way, but she could also be happy having things ... the other way.

I could certainly be reading too much into a slice of her comments, but it turns my stomach into knots... How did we end up with an administration that considered torture even something to be considered, much less eminently debatable?

Since the beginning of the Bush administration the principle role of the White House press secretary has been to get the message of the day through the media to the people already disposed to admire the President and be sympathetic to his administration. The great majority of such people do not follow policy -- in any area -- in great detail.

The message of the day is not policy. Many Americans, particularly Republicans, want to hear the President and his spokespeople say in plain English that we do not torture, and are willing to accept that statement on faith once it is given. Now, against that those of us who do follow policy more closely have to set a couple of things. The first is what the administration has said about interrogation practices, detainee treatent, and related subjects in private. And the second is what government agencies are actually doing now with respect to these subjects.

Unhappily we know much less about the last subject, which is the most important, than we need to ascertain whether the message of the day is close to representing the truth or not. It would be pleasant to think that the more egregious interrogation practices were evaluated thoroughly enough in the early part of this decade for their extravagent cost-to-benefit ratio to become well understood throughout the relevant agencies. In this case internal policy memos could provide cover for personnel who engaged in egregious practices that have since been discontinued. The alternative, that reportedly internal policy guidance reflects egregious practices that are still being used, is sadly also possible.

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