Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Tortuous

It got lost amid the Deep Throat coverage, but the president was asked yesterday about the Amnesty International report that said the U.S. had created “the gulag of our times” at its detention facilities in Guantanamo.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is -- promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

Today, Rumsfeld piled on, calling the report "reprehensible."

This is yet another example of the Bush administration's cynical rhetorical positioning on the torture and civil rights of detainees. On one level, it is absurd to equate the network of U.S. prisons for these detainees as a “gulag.” The Soviet gulag, and its counterparts in China, Burma and elsewhere were/are monstrous totalitarian instruments, used to punish dissent and keep entire populations quiescent. Millions have perished and millions more are simply lost in today’s gulags. By comparison, the U.S. abuses are small potatoes.

But is the "bad - but not a gulag!" standard really how we want to measure ourselves? AI's rhetorical excesses are the least of our problems. The reporter here basically lobbed a softball - he probably had no choice, as this was something Bush was going to be asked about - and Bush was ready for it.

Getting in a huff over the AI report is the latest variant of the "Newsweek" strategy of misdirection. It lets Bush and company reassure supporters and sidestep the reality: the United States has created a network of virtually unaccountable secret military/CIA prisons where detainees have virtually no rights. It ships prisoners to countries where torture is practiced. It engages in interrogation techniques that include forms of physical coercion that meet most definitions of torture. And it has killed people.

Bush’s sweeping dismissal of all torture allegations – including, apparently, the ones that have been corroborated – as fakery from people trained to “disassemble” is not surprising, but it is still disturbing. His denials are hardening, and are more disquieting than his earlier, completely unreassuring assurances that "the United States does not condone torture." Even if a lie, it was a more affirmative statement than "no torture has ever occurred."

Andrew Sullivan goes into more detail.