No Comment — October 15, 2007, 10:30 pm

Speaking Truth to Torturers, Cont’d

Last night I listened to a group of retired generals and admirals speak very movingly of their commitment to oppose the Bush Administration’s torture policies. One of them, General Fred Haynes, is a genuine American hero, who fought in three wars, starting with the beaches of Iwo Jima. “It undermines our most fundamental values,” he said, “it makes us less safe, not safer.” Hopefully we’ll have some reporting on their remarks in the press shortly. In the meantime, here are three more voices raised against torture.

Frank Rich, ‘The Good Germans’
Frank Rich reminds us that the debate about torture is not “just politics,” as most of the mainstream media would have it. More properly viewed, it raises a simple question: does our nation have any fundamental shared values any more? Do we not have have a camp, consisting of 25-30% of the population, who have abdicated all moral values in favor of taking marching orders from The Leader? Are those “American values” by any stretch?

“Bush lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves. Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan. . . observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.” Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

Rich also finds a vessel for the values that once made America proud and upon whose extirpation the Bush Administration is now bent: the interrogators of World War II.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

Simon Jenkins, The Threat Lies Within
Simon Jenkins is one of my favorite Tories. I’ve read him faithfully for years and just ten days ago—at a publication party in London for Robert Harris, marking the issuance of The Ghost–finally got to meet him. He mentioned that he was at work on a piece talking about the core values test of the war on terror, and on Sunday it appeared. It’s a must-read piece, which exposes an essential fact. The Bush Administration has waged the war on terror as a war on our own values. And that constitutes a potentially far graver threat to our society that the Islamic terrorists themselves.

The chief threat to world security at present lies in the capacity of tiny groups of political Islamists to goad the West into a rolling military retaliation. Extremists on each side feed off the others’ frenzied scenarios so as to garner money and political support for their respective armies of the night. Each sees the other as a cosmic menace and abandons communal tolerance and peaceful diplomacy to counter it. . .

I am proud to be a cheerleader for western values. I see the West. . . as powerful without precedent. The American-European economic and political axis is unconquerable. For all its occasional and manifold lapses, capitalist democracy has been tested and not found wanting. Other societies such as Russia, China and India all measure themselves against the West’s success and seek in varying degrees to emulate it. To this extent Francis Fukuyama was right to call the end of the cold war “the end of history”. ..

There is no Saladin or Tamerlane riding out of the desert to subject the West to a new caliphate. There is rather a job for the police, local and international, one at which they seem reasonably competent. America and Britain, for example, have each seen just one successful attack by Muslim terrorists in the past decade. While other attacks have been forestalled, we would be mad to see them as constituting a war of civilisations and religions. There may be young Muslims and their teachers with a vested interest in talking up such a war. There are those in the West with the same interest, such as the booming armaments and security industries with their think tanks and lobbyists.

Such vested interests need to be exposed as such. To portray Islam as a whole as a concerted threat to western security, and to imply that the West’s democratic institutions and freedoms are not proof against that threat, is absurd and close to treason. Then to demand that western freedoms be dismantled and stored away for the duration of a “war on terror” is to wave the flag of surrender. This defeatism led the American Congress to allow its president to authorise torture and detention without trial in what Senator Robert Byrd called “the slow unravelling of the people’s liberties”. It enabled a British Home Office to curb free speech and habeas corpus. It arms police, fortifies buildings and impedes the free movement of citizens. It makes every Christian suspicious of every Muslim.

This poison has not been generated by the teaching of Sayyid Qutb and his Al-Qaeda fanatics, but in the overreaction to them. After sowing their mayhem they, and not Afghanistan and Iraq, should have been targeted and eliminated. The belligerence and ineptitude of western policy over the past decade has turned nobodies into heroes of the Muslim world. The most incompetent period of western diplomacy since the 1930s has left the West hated and cities everywhere at the mercy of any Muslim misfit with a sack of explosive.

When Thomas Paine told America that “we have it in our power to begin the world over again”, he meant by example, not military conquest. His utopianism was a brave, confident and open-hearted one. That of his successors is sinking into the opposite, a fearful, besieged, security-obsessed wimpishness, in which Muslims rightly feel threatened by the arbitrary violence of the American right. It is ironic that defeat in the cold war should have led Russia to the exuberant self-confidence of Vladimir Putin’s Moscow, while victory has plunged the West into a loss of nerve. In both Washington and London are leaders who have so little confidence in democracy as to regard it as vulnerable to a few madmen, and who have so little respect for democracy’s freedoms as to suspend them at the bang of a bomb. I believe in the robustness of the democracies created in the West over the past half-century. I am not sure that our leaders do.

Francis X. Stone, Unsophisticated Methods
Lt. Col. Francis X. Stone, a retired Air Force officer, writes to the Boston Globe:

During my last year in Vietnam, 1968 to ’69, I was in charge of US Air Force interrogation of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army prisoners. None of what Bush labels as legal was legal under the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is still a signatory. US Army, Marine, and Army of Republic of Vietnam personnel were constantly amazed at the interrogation results produced by the Air Force, and we were never allowed to touch prisoners, let alone head-slap them. Every human being has needs, and we learned those needs and exploited them. Neither Bush’s bullying approach in the Mideast nor his unlawful interrogation program has worked. Sophisticated psychological methods are not being used by the Bush people, so the alleged “nontorture” bullying will continue.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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