Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » June 2005 » If we could but only Hope...

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06/22/2005: If we could but only Hope...

David Ignatious (writing in Slate) has this interesting view of Condi Rice's recent "democracy speech":

Rice's Useful Rhetoric:

"...That "glass house" aspect of Rice's proclamation can help keep the Bush administration honest about some of its toughest foreign policy decisions. It's the secular equivalent of "What Would Jesus Do?" What would a democratic nation that cares about the rule of law do about the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? What energy policies are appropriate for a nation that advocates change in Saudi Arabia?

Rice was not advancing an expedient wartime ethic, of the sort we have heard too often from the Bush administration, but a universal moral one. America's mission, by her account, isn't a war against terrorism but a struggle for democracy. That may sound like a mere change in semantics, but it moves the United States from a situation in which every Muslim is a potential enemy to one in which every Muslim is a potential ally. Again, amen...."

One could hope that this message would have some truthful resonance, but only if the hard-liners would embrace it fully and stop shirking their moral duty in this context.

It's probably time to revisit in a piece I wrote a while ago about how our government and bAdministration wishes to have the world "perceive" it to be the White-Hatted John Wayne of Righeousness, while simultaneously acting with the part of the dubious-morality of "Dirty Harry" in its policies.

Click on the "more" button to read this piece.

Dirty Harry Might Blush

As I watched both the confirmation hearings for Dr. Rice and Judge Gonzales, I was struck by a similar nuanced approach to the issues “torture” and how to deal with Al Qaeda. This entire “debate” (if it can be called one...since only the White House and Justice Department and DoD apparently participated in secret discussions and memos) over the “rules of engagement” in this new war on terrorism and what to do with a paradigm of combatants that fit neither our old definitions of “soldiers” nor deserve the same considerations of our warriors, put me in mind of whether the administration is more like model of the title character Clint Eastwood’s film “Dirty Harry,” than the cowboy strength and heroism of John Wayne.

The essential quality of the Dirty Harry character (and reason for his nickname “dirty”) is that he is selected to deal with characters and criminals operating outside of both human decency and mental rationality, which threatens people’s lives. The implication is that the ‘civilized rules” for criminals are too namby-pamby to get results and so Harry appoints himself “above the law” for these purposes…even though later he gets his dressing down from superiors. Unless Harry acts beyond the “letter of the law” to get information, all would be lost to save lives and stop this murderer.

The movie makes it indisputable that the evil is character is a chillingly deranged psycopath, a person devoid of reason or conscience that drives the audience identification with Harry’s point of view. I remember when this film first aired in theaters and the reaction of the audiences to the final encounter with the psychopathic Scorpio Killer. When Harry causes the “reach for the weapon” justification to remove this slimy pathetic excuse for a human being…the audience clapped, cheered and actually stood up in agreement with finally having nailed this killer. Legalities be damned…this guy got what he deserved…a bullet from the famed 44 magnum, the most powerful hand-gun in the world.

The lines of the movie have passed into cinematic lexicon, but it’s more the operative premise that struck me and still applies today. Is the administration acting more like Dirty Harry? Is there an attempt to project the image of John Wayne’s “white hat,” forthright, law abiding model while really embracing the more unprincipled Dirty Harry role in skirting if not the actual the letter of the law, the spirit of the law to “get results?” The removal of the language concerning torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners or detainees from the Intelligence Bill and the weird administration rationale for the “limits” it might impose on their “intelligence gathering” from prisoners is telling. It says we want to appear to uphold values against torture as the public face of our policy. However, when it comes to the law…just don’t make it legal policy to forbid actual torture techniques….don’t codify it too strongly in our laws. Rice and Gonzales both refuse to discuss “particular techniques” for explaining or enlightening the committee (or Americans) in determining what ones would be defined as “torture” and which do not. Why? The only possible reason is to be “free”…legally… to use such techniques if “military necessity” requires it. Again, the operative test is “military necessity” which can be as broad or narrow as the administration, in it’s wisdom, wishes it to be.

As was revealed during these hearings, the administration is approaching this problem not with open honest debate in one of our public forums for creating new laws, new rules, new definitions of how to deal with this problem. Instead, and there is clear documented evidence, to have only internal discussions within the White House, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and CIA. When Congress did write this into its Intelligence bill...the letter went out from Dr. Rice…requesting to remove that language. Not just objectionable portions…but all language about Intelligence officers refraining from torture or inhuman, degrading punishment. But most of the Congress and the Legislature and the American public were not aware of this letter, nor informed about this issue on these rules, nor that this was a deletion from that bill’s provisions.

I think even Dirty Harry (or Clint Eastwood who created this character) would blush at this step back from the rules of our society, and what it may say about our country. These techniques of torture, Harry would conclude, as being “outside” even his view of the law.” Shouldn’t we question this kind of one-sided “review” and creation of “new rules” on how to deal with these terrorists and the consequences of policies that resulted in a climate which condoned Abu Graib aberrations for far too long.

Karen on 06.22.05 @ 10:49 AM CST

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