Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Concentration of Evil

The more I read about torture by United States agents—CIA operatives,
military special forces, hired mercenaries, and military police—the
more unsettling the whole sordid situation becomes. The information
now at hand is simply unassailable: the United States government
consciously set out, after the attacks of 9/11, to “take off the
gloves” when dealing with prisoners who might possibly have
information about al Quaeda or the Taliban or anyone else in the Arab/
Muslim world. Using techniques that had been around for years, some
for centuries, some updated specifically for those likely to be
captured in the current “war” on terror, intelligence agents
determined that they could employ just about any method to extract
information. They were aided and abetted and indeed prodded to do so
by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and through him, by
their commanders. The Secretary of Defense was in turn given the
protection of the best legal “minds” in the White House and the
Department of Justice, who issued a series of now-famous memos
justifying virtually all means of gathering intelligence from
captives, most of whom were placed in a category that voided the
protections normally due them as prisoners.

All this took place in an atmosphere in which the United
States President, George W. Bush, had promised, right after 9/11, to
rid the world of evil—by which he meant the evil promulgated by those
terrorists who had attacked the World Trade Center.

Instead, what took place was the greatest concentration
of evil in the history of the American presidency. Consider who was
in that White House. George W. Bush, from the moment he took office,
indeed, before he even took office, demonstrated that morals simply
did not apply to him. He could piously proclaim the virtues of
military service, and remain AWOL from even the minimal duty he was
obligated to perform in the Air National Guard. He could inveigh
against the so-called Axis of Evil, and at the same time authorize to
his staff virtually any measures in pursuing revenge: “any barriers
in your way, they are gone.” He could preach about the bestial
nature of the terrorists who had attacked our “civilized” values, and
at the same time rebuff anyone—this time the Secretary of Defense, no
nervous Nellie himself—who protested that retaliatory action could
encounter certain legal obstacles:

“I don’t care what the international lawyers say,”
brayed the President. “We are going to kick some ass.”

It was this climate, created by the President, that led directly to
the horrors at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and
Guantanamo in Cuba.

But the president was not alone. Smirking quietly but
malevolently behind him and beside him always was his president of
vice, Richard Cheney. Cheney is that lovely man who once gave the
finger in the Senate to a democrat who thwarted him, Senator Patrick
Leahy, mouthing presidentially: “Go fuck yourself.” He’s that
sporting duck hunter who famously shot his best friend in the face.
He’s that zealot who pushed the concept of the unitary presidency—the
notion that no law can constrain a president in time of war—to the
point that, with the war on terror scheduled to last indefinitely,
absolute presidential power becomes indefinite as well. Cheney is
also the man in whose office the lawyer David Addington reigns—the
one browbeating other white house lawyers to immunize the president
and all his men from their crimes.

Then, of course, there were the other ethically-
challenged legal eagles: Alberto Gonzalez, who had to resign from his
Attorney General post in shame; John Yoo, who coined the term
“quaint” to describe the Geneva Conventions, thus making their
protections moot; and a host of others dedicated to removing all
constraints on the torture of captives so long as the Decider in
Chief gave torture his imprimatur. And he did. And they did. And the
evil festered and suppurated and spread around the globe. And the
White House, and all it touched, became a black house of horrors.

How to explain this? How to explain such a concentration
of evil in one place at one time? No one really knows. Perhaps one
can only look at it poetically: those who preach the gospel of
absolute good and absolute evil, as George Bush has since taking
office, as the conservatives have since forever—it is their prime
article of faith—must ultimately practice what they preach. They
must finally be caught up in the dualism to which they subscribe. For
it is in the nature of dualism to be convertible: white easily shades
into black, hot inevitably becomes cold, good cannot help but be
infected by, and in the end defined by evil.

So it is in the Bush White House. Paint it and sanitize
it and bleach it as they will, they can never hide what they have
become and what it has become: a black house inhabited by demons.

Lawrence DiStasi


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