Friday, September 29, 2006

What Would George Washington Say Now?

By Cassandra D

Yesterday the Senate passed the detainee treatment bill that allows President Bush to determine what constitutes torture. [He has such a great track record. He is, after all, The Decider. Why should we doubt his abilities?]

Hillary Clinton spoke [great speech, by the way; read the whole thing] about the pending legislation and noted the example set for us by George Washington during the Revolutionary War:

"General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners: 'Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.'"

Why is it so easy for Americans today to throw out the wisdom of our ancestors?


The New York Times sums it up.

Statement from People for the American Way President Ralph G. Neas:

“Senator John McCain has often noted how our system of justice makes us different from terrorists—how it gives us the moral high ground. While terrorists might resort to torture, it has long been against the law for Americans to do so. At least that used to be the case, before Senator McCain and others caved to the Bush administration and passed this atrocious measure.

“This legislation turns our system of justice upside down, betrays basic American values of fairness and justice, and undermines the rule of law. It gives the Bush administration a blank check to detain whoever it sees fit, and to use whatever interrogation techniques it wants, without oversight. It deprives detainees of habeas corpus—their right to challenge their imprisonment in the courts—and it may make them vulnerable to the use of secret or coerced evidence. Adding insult to injury, this legislation includes a blanket waiver letting members of this administration off the hook for potential violations of the law. What a disgrace.

“Some senators probably supported this measure because they were worried about being perceived as soft on terrorism. But capitulation doesn’t make them look strong. If they want to win the votes of people who are worried about security, they had better show that they know how to stand up and fight. Unfortunately for our democracy, too many of them have failed to do so today.”


At 8:18 AM, Blogger RedDirt said...

Of course, Cassandra, this is a hard comparison to make -- as any "humane" detainee treatment in the Revolutionary era would have had far harsher conditions than any prison in the developed world today. This was, after all, a time when "gaols" (jails) were simply holes in the ground with bars over them -- not Gitmo where guards make sure prisoners have plenty of almonds and honey during their Ramadan fast and provide medical monitoring to make sure they're getting plenty of nutrients.

At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we continue to assume that everyone holed up at Gitmo are quilty of being a "terrorist", it will always be okay to torture them. Being an American, I can't stop assuming that people are innocent until proven guilty. I think an innocent man deserves almonds and honey.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger RedDirt said...

Cassandra, is this the same George Washington who ordered one of his officers to carry out the complete destruction of the Iroquois 1779? That George Washington -- and maybe they're not the same person, you'll have to help me out here -- wrote in his specific orders, "But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them."

I'm confused, and gee, I just want to make sure I'm not throwing out the wisdom of my ancestors here.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger RedDirt said...

I guess you're making my point, Anonymous. I don't think I implied that I thought every person locked up at Gitmo was terrorist, though I think anyone but the most naive would have to admit the vast majority are enemy combatants and jihadist -- seems like a fine distinction to make, either way. In any case, the very fact that they are being provided with such treatment -- not to mention the fact that Gitmo prisoners routinely organize assaults on guards with stored feces, urine, etc. -- seems to undermine the "American gulag" meme.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Brad said...

Man, when Red Dirt needs to make a point, he'll carpet bomb everything in his path, founding fathers included. Yeah, they owned slaves and were all into manifest destiny, but does that mean we need to start printing the Constitution on 2-ply?

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Dr. Pants said...

1. If we start throwing out everything good done by someone who also did something bad, then I guess we should cover our eyes and ears and live in fucking silent isolation for the rest of time. Some of the writers of the Constitution owned slaves, which was wrong, so let's forget all of that freedom stuff and rights. Oh, wait, we kind of already are.

2. Innocent until proven guilty. I don't know that the majority of the men in Gitmo are guilty. Do I think they are? Yeah. But we won't know until we see some proof. If you or I or Cassandra D get locked up for murder tomorrow, we get to defend ourselves and see the evidence against us.

And while I'm not one who likes the collected waste of others thrown at me, if I was one of those innocent few trapped in a jail for years with no trial and no hope for ever leaving, yeah, I might throw some shit.

We can dress up this pig any way you want to, but when we start legalizing torture and throw out the idea of fair trials, it's still going to be ugly. No one, and I'm tired of these straw man attacks -- NO ONE is saying that there are not bad men out there, organized, evil and wanting to harm us or somebody else. But until we can see the proof that every single one in our custody is guilty, then maybe we shouldn't be suspending their right to trials or, I don't know, not be drowned, threatened, frozen or otherwise tortured.

This isn't an intellectual discussion any more. Do you understand? We are talking about real people. Real pain. Real torture. I'm not saying that they wouldn't do the same to us, but isn't that why we hate the terrorists?

At 10:56 AM, Blogger RedDirt said...

Actually I have a few mea culpas to make on this topic:

1. I have serious reservations about the legislation - and I think the "you're with us or against us" rhetoric on the issue is insulting to people of good will. But I thought the George Washington thing was too far afield and needed some historical counterpoints to put it into perspective.

2. I worry that the legislation could have the effect of "scope creep" over the next decade that could allow our government to do more and more things in our name that we find abhorrent.

3. I don't like all the euphemisms being thrown around to describe torture, i.e. "proper methods" by the administration - very Orwellian language and not at all in line with open American democracy. There are some things, like waterboarding, that I think are just plain cruel and unusual. There are other things, such as sleep deprivation and being made to stand for long periods, that I'm honestly perfectly okay with. We need to have a serious and open conversation about those things. On the one hand, I'm disturbed by the Orwellian tone and creep of the administration. On the other hand, I'm troubled by the hysterical tone of many of those on the other side of the issue.

3. I am a bit of a rhetorical carpet bomber, to be sure, and I should have really put an emoticon ;-) after all that to indicate that I was being a smart-ass, poopyhead (oy, the things having a four-year-old will do to one's language!).

The problem is, I hate emoticons :)

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous turtle said...

Thank you, RedDirt, for introducing me to the word 'emoticon.' Me still so computer illiterate sometimes.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger RedDirt said...

For whatever reason, Blogger won't let me post a comment on Cassandra's most recent entry on Tristero's comments. I think I've pretty much filled any quota for comments on CTTC today, but I have to just share this one more thing.

And Cassandra this is not directed at you but at the writer of the post you excerpted...

This continuing line about a "stolen election" must stop. It must stop now. I’m begging anyone who considers themselves moderate and reasonable to join me in condemning this misinformation about a stolen election. One legitimate study after another has repeatedly shown that Bush won Florida. This is a painful truth for supporters of Gore, but it’s a truth nonetheless.

Like him or not, Bush is a legitimately-elected president. The “not my president” sloganeering is simply another example of the extremes of the left, the wedge that has driven people like me away from the center and further to the right.

I urge everyone here to reject this inappropriate sloganeering and radical chic language. Even Rep. Charlie Rangel referred to Bush as “my president” last week when Rangel lashed out against Chavez for his ridiculous remarks at the U.N. If a dedicated Democratic partisan like Rangel sees Bush as his legitimate president, surely commenters here on CTTC are level-headed and logical enough to do the same thing, and still vehemently disagree with their president's politics and policies?

Those who insist on continuing to use this inaccurate and inflammatory line about a “stolen election” are doing a disservice to our country and to our shared sense of democracy.

This is not a “rogue presidency.” Though, as I said, I have serious reservations about the legislation passed yesterday, it passed in an atmosphere of debate, divisions and compromise accurately reported on the front pages of our newspapers and broadcast on our networks – perfectly in line with legitimate legislative processes and our democratic republic.

Please join me in rejecting the extreme rhetoric of writers like Tristero, whether you’re right, left or center.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Brad said...

"Not my president" sloganeering is no more insidious than the rash of bumperstickers we saw from 1993 through 2000 that said, "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bush" or "Dole."

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous turtle said...

Or how about Rush Limbaugh and his infamous "America held hostage" bullshit during Clinton's term. Held hostage by a President who won by landslides, no less.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger RedDirt said...

Well Brad and turtle, I guess what sucks for both of you is that I voted for Bush I in 1988 and 1992, and I voted for Clinton in 1996. Both men were in every sense "my president," warts and all. I also voiced support for Clinton in 1998 against "wag the dog" nonsense when he was trying to confront Saddam in much the same way that Bush II did 5 years later. Sorry, but I totally disagree that "not my president" is just a harmless bit of fun. It is far more insidious. "Don't blame me" is a statement by a partisan saying they voted one way and not the other. "Not my president" is this destructive sort of political nihilism. Remember the screeching leftists who shouted down Albright and Cohen at town hall meetings? They morphed right into the Seattle protests and then "not my president."

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous turtle said...

Still, Limbaugh and his right-wing ilk were the instigators of the most vitriolic, divisive political speech I've heard in my lifetime.

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Brad said...

No one posted that "Not My President" is just a "harmless bit of fun."

Yet, you say you "totally disagree" with it.

The definition of "straw man."


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