No Comment — May 16, 2007, 8:46 am

The Torture Party

Abraham Lincoln left his party a clear legacy. He opposed torture. There were no equivocations of any sort. He made clear that notions of battlefield exigency – known in military law as the doctrine of “military necessity” – could never be invoked to justify it. Torture was barbaric, a practice in opposition to which the United States rose and defined itself. And Lincoln did not restrict his view to political speeches, it was laid down in binding battlefield orders (General Orders No. 100 of April 23, 1863.)

If you wondered what relationship the Republican Party today has to its great founder, you need go no further than the transcript of the debate conducted on May 15, 2007 – conducted in South Carolina, where the flag carried by Southern insurrectionist slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan flapped in the wind outside.

Here’s just one brief out-take from this ethics freak-show of a political debate :

HUME: Mayor Giuliani, the former Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, the current head of the CIA have both said that the most valuable intelligence tool they have had has been the information gained from what are called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” to include, presumably, waterboarding. What is your view whether such techniques should be applied in a scenario like the one I described?

GIULIANI: In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know there is going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of. Shouldn’t be torture, but every method they can think of.

HUME: Water boarding?

GIULIANI: I would say every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that because I have seen — [applause] — I have seen what can happen when you make a mistake about this and I don’t want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else . . .

ROMNEY: I am glad [detainees] are at Guantanamo. I don’t want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons, I want them there. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo.

Of all the candidates, only John McCain and Ron Paul answered the question in a morally responsible way.

This debate revealed a Republican Party which is at war, not with Al Qaeda (indeed, they seem indifferent to Al Qaeda, as five years plus of Osama bin Laden at liberty well demonstrates), but with the values of the American Republic. They have become a menace to our nation’s morals and its national security, and an embarrassment to the entire nation.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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