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Lifetime Detainment: No Pros, All Cons
To Torture or Not to Torture: How Is That Even the Question?

by Mark Drolette
January 20, 2005

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I just read another well-written, facts-inclusive article about the malevolent Bushies that comments on their continuous coddling of that country commonly commended for its commanding compassion: Saudi Arabia.  The author, Paul Heller, explains how the sensitive Saudi government had recently (and characteristically) lopped off the heads of a couple of drug dealers, and points out the rather incongruous matter of Bushco supporting a terrorist regime while allegedly committed to combating terrorist regimes.

With friends like these, who needs other friends?  Then again, in Bushworld, who the hell cares?

Heller started me a-ponderin’ how far down the scale we are sliding as a nation.  Then I realized: we’re plumb out of slide-down room.  We have hit bottom and we ain’t a-movin’ on up, to the east side, to the west side, or any old side ‘cept sideways, which is where, these days, one finds ideal American ways -- always.

A glaring, galling example of the administration’s basement-level baseness is provided in a recent article by Dana Priest of the Washington Post:

“Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries…The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including those for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts.”

Well, where to start?  The indefinite imprisonments?  The fact that one need only be “suspected” of being a terrorist (as so designated by George Bush; now there’s a comforting thought) to be detained for a “lifetime” because of a lack of “enough evidence to charge in courts”?

Not to be an alarmist (impossible these days, anyway), but this means you or I could be put away forever simply at Dubya’s discretion.  If you consider this far-fetched, I remind you here that Education Secretary Rod Paige identified the country’s largest teacher’s union, the National Education Association, as a “terrorist organization”; it is a small step indeed for the Constitution-reviling, Patriot Act-revering team of Bush/Cheney to label --  yes, believe it or not -- even non-educators as mortal enemies of the state.

Fortunately, our cat-like elected officials are right on top of this one, ferociously guarding our freedoms.  Priest quotes Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, thusly: “The details about the system may need to remain secret.”

That Jane: what a tigress for liberty, huh?

A Yahoo News item compiled “from Times staff and wire reports” presents this sparkler uttered by usually-thoughtful Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) during his January 2 appearance on Fox News Sunday: “There must be some modicum, some semblance of due process…if you’re going to detain people, whether it’s for life or whether it’s for years.”

Yo, Carl!!  That due process thing is kind of a non-starter once the topic turns to lifetime detainments.

Not to be outdone, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), appearing on the same show, made a fine bid for understatement of the epoch by saying that lack of court oversight regarding permanent detention “is a bad idea.”

Wow…ya think?

Undoubtedly, the government has done plenty of rotten things for years, but previously, when the public would finally catch ill whiff of questionable capers’ unquestionable vapors, hearings were held and hands were slapped (or, hands were held and hearings were slapped).  Maybe even a president was rightly forced to resign (golden times, eh?).  And, far more often than not, policy changes were made to at least try to prevent similar things from happening again.

No longer.  In the case of this beyond-draconian suspect-for-life prison proposal, there’s no pretense of even trying to deny this medieval scheme really exists.  Now that the cover’s blown, the government agencies involved -- the Pentagon, the CIA, and even the State Department -- have entirely dispensed with the time-honored and well-honed tradition of exclaiming, wide-eyed: “Oh, my, how could this have happened??” followed immediately by the requisite public back-pedaling.  Instead, we are presented with outright admission but still full intention to implement this latest arbeit-macht-frei, war-is-peace, screw-the-Constitution plan of the administration.

Those who may seek some sort of solace by claiming American citizens aren’t affected by this beyond-the-pale tale pursue false refuge.  Priest again: “Little is known about the CIA’s captives, the conditions under which they are kept -- or the procedures used to decide how long they are held or when they may be freed.”

Plus, of course, we already have the cases of Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, two men who are U.S. citizens.  Well, Padilla still is anyway -- at least on paper.  Approaching the three-year mark since his May 2002 arrest and subsequent designation by George Bush as an enemy combatant, he languishes in a South Carolina naval brig and has yet to be charged with any crime.

Hamdi, also deemed an enemy combatant, was imprisoned for more than two years without charges before making a deal with the government (in what Mike Whitney in ZNET calls “a clear case of coercion”) to renounce his American citizenship and be deported to Saudi Arabia (where he also is a citizen) in October 2004.

Truly, though, it’s inconsequential if indefinitely incarcerated suspects are Americans, Afghanis, or Ashcrofts (in the latter case, I could see an exception being made).  Once upon a time in America, it used to be a “suspect” was just that: a suspect, with the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial (or a trial, period).  Now, in Bush Country, the term is shorthand for “Put ‘em in jail and throw away the key.” 

This all comes as nil surprise, though.  The writing was scrawled on the dungeon wall in big bloody letters the day (June 8, 2004) U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to provide to the Senate Judiciary Committee an August 2002 Justice Department memo that specified how interrogators could “legally” commit torture.  (Never mind it had already been leaked to the press; Ashcroft has his principles, you know.) 

This was also the same hearing in which Ashcroft, according to Lawrence M. O’Rourke of the Sacramento Bee, responded to Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) straight-up question, “Has there been any order directed from the president with regard to interrogation of detainees, prisoners, or combatants? Yes or no,” by declaring, “I’m not in a position to answer that question.”  The smoke plume generated by this non-answer grows even thicker now in light of the FBI email obtained recently by the American Civil Liberties Union that specifically refers to just such an executive order.

The AG’s weaseling was, as always, sickening to observe.  But the most elementarily appalling aspect by far was that a hearing on torture would even need to be held in the U.S. Senate.  What in sweet justice’s name was there to discuss?

Today’s obvious statement: Not only is torture completely repugnant, immoral, un-American, and -- “practically” speaking -- impractical, but once the torture-as-topic door is open, the bar of what constitutes “acceptable” behavior is instantly, and markedly, lowered.

Thus, the inevitable end result: No bar exists (except for the one down the street that mindful folks probably find themselves frequenting more frequently these days).

I’ve accumulated quite the depressing little pile of clippings related to the ongoing saga of America’s continuing experiment with state-sponsored torture.  The headline for each, accompanied by a pull-quote, follows:

U.S. OKs Evidence Gained Through Torture” (Associated Press, Michael J. Sniffen, December 3, 2004): “Evidence gained by torture can be used by the U.S. military in deciding whether to imprison a foreigner indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an enemy combatant, the [U.S.] government says.”

AP: FBI Letter Cites Guantanamo Abuse” (Associated Press, Paisley Dodds, December 6, 2004): “FBI agents witnessed ‘highly aggressive’ interrogations and mistreatment of terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba starting in 2002 -- more than a year before the prison abuse scandal broke in Iraq -- according to a letter a senior Justice Department official sent to the Army's top criminal investigator.”

At Guantanamo, a Prison Within a Prison” (, Dana Priest and Scott Higham, December 17, 2004): “Within the heavily guarded perimeters of the Defense Department's much-discussed Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the CIA has maintained a detention facility for valuable al Qaeda captives that has never been mentioned in public, according to military officials and several current and former intelligence officers.”

Briton Details U.S. Abuse at Guantanamo” (Associated Press, Jocelyn Gecker, December 17, 2004): “A Briton released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay told Europe's top human rights body Friday he was beaten, shackled, kept in a cramped cage and fed rotten food as part of ‘systematic abuse’ in American custody.”

Pentagon Interrogators ‘Impersonated’ FBI- E-Mails” (Reuters, Will Dunham, December 20, 2004): “Defense Department interrogators impersonated FBI agents at the Guantanamo Bay prison to avoid being held accountable when they used ‘torture techniques’ on a prisoner held there in the U.S. war on terrorism, according to FBI e-mails…”

Further Detainee Abuse Alleged” (, Carol D. Leonnig, December 26, 2004): “‘On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water,’ an unidentified [FBI] agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004…‘Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.’”

Doctors aided in detainee abuse, journal says” (Washington Post, Joe Stephens, January 6, 2005): “U.S. Army doctors violated the Geneva Conventions by helping intelligence officers carry out abusive interrogations at military detention centers, perhaps participating in torture, according to a report in…the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.”

And certainly no discussion along these lines would be complete without mentioning “renditions,” which, according to Priest, are “used by the CIA…to transfer captives it picks up abroad to third countries willing to hold them indefinitely and without public proceedings.  The transfers…depend on arrangements between the United States and other countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan, that agree to have local security services hold certain terrorism suspects in their facilities for interrogation by CIA and foreign liaison officers.”

“The practice has been criticized by civil liberties groups and others, who point out that some of the countries have human rights records that are criticized by the State Department in annual reports.”

“Renditions originated in the 1990s as a way of picking up criminals abroad, such as drug kingpins, and delivering them to courts in the United States or other countries.  Since 2001, the practice has been used to make certain that detainees do not go to court or go back on the streets…‘The whole idea has become a corruption of renditions,’ said one CIA officer who has been involved in the practice. ‘It's not rendering to justice; it's kidnapping.’”

It’s times like these I discover even my very deep well of umbrage does not hold words adequate to properly express, uh, my very deep umbrage.  (See what I mean?)

Perhaps, though, it is premature to worry about the well-being of big-hearted America’s much-ballyhooed moral center, since our soon-to-be new attorney general, Alberto “Burn ‘Em If You Caught ‘Em” Gonzales -- that’s right, the same Mr. Gonzales who, according to David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times, “personally requested” the aforementioned and now-infamous Justice Department memo -- has suddenly seen the light.

Yes, indeedy, the very same Mr. Gonzales who, per R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen of, “chaired the meetings” which led to the memo’s drafting and “included detailed descriptions of interrogation techniques such as ‘waterboarding,’ a tactic intended to make detainees feel as if they are drowning” to which Gonzales “raised no objections,” has now recanted.

Or something.

Admittedly, I was a bit anxious at first about Gonzales’ nomination for attorney general, what with his being smack dab at the center of the formation of America’s (literally) shocking new torture policy and all.  You can imagine my relief, then, when he promised during his opening statement at his Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing: “I share [the president’s] resolve that torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration, and commit to you today that, if confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Justice aggressively pursues those responsible for such abhorrent actions.”

I’ve gotta tell you, I’d never even considered such a thing as a torture mulligan!  A do-over, in other words.  How brilliant is that??  I’m just hoping this translates well in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and who knows where else, so that those we have tormented and abused and killed (well, too late for them, I guess) will know that the first time ‘round didn’t really count and that, starting right now, we, really, truly, honest-to-God (ours, of course), promise not to do it anymore.

Gonzales also made another interesting statement that led me to believe someone had viciously circulated unfounded rumors about him.  To wit:

“Contrary to reports, I consider the Geneva Conventions neither obsolete nor quaint.”

I did some digging, and, honestly, I don’t how some of this character assassination stuff gets started.  In a January 2002 “Memorandum for the President” Gonzales authored, here’s what he really said: “In my judgment, this new paradigm [of the ‘war against terrorism’] renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions…”

Now how’s that for twisting a guy’s words?

Of course, back here in civilization or whatever little remains of it in the wake of decisions made by folks like Gonzales, the truly twisted thing is that such a depraved -- yes, depraved -- liar could be considered qualified to be even a house dick, let alone America’s top cop.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a house dick because there isn’t and furthermore, if I belonged to the house dick union I would do everything in my power to blackball Gonzales if he started hangin’ around the union hall lookin’ for employment after AIBF [America’s Inevitable Big Fall].)

So, let’s see: Lifetime detainments, secret prisons, torture, doctors who assist in torture, renditions…yep, we got yer American values right here, all right, and all courtesy of the right.

Normally, this might be where I’d rail against Il Dunce and his corner men.  Not today, because I’d just like to stipulate for the record the Bushies are outright evil and fascism is upon us.  Thank you, your honor.

No, my targets del dia are American citizens, specifically the ones who remain silent about U.S. neo-barbarity.  It is no secret America now routinely tortures people and seeks to imprison them for life, as every one of the articles cited earlier is from the corporate media.  It’s painfully true one can’t expect the whoreporate newsies to dig too deep, but when the subject is America committing torture in any capacity, what more is needed: a fair and balanced panel discussion on the under-appreciated merits of the rack?

Any one of those articles -- hell, just about any one of those headlines -- should be enough to thunderously peel the lost-liberty bell for even the most tone-deaf of Americans, and every single citizen of this country should be instantly and evermore repulsed by the thought of a president authorizing, or the U.S. engaging in, torture.

But, heil nein.  Instead, we have tens of millions of self-proclaimed patriots who, by voicing no opposition, give implicit permission to those in position to press their mission: torture, disappearing, and rendition.

It’s become quite commonplace anymore, as horrors emanate non-stop from this administration, to hear people say America is increasingly becoming less distinguishable from those who really do wish it harm.

Such a sentiment may be understandable, but it’s also wrong.  America is not becoming anything.

A man who steals a stallion is not turning into a horse thief; he is a horse thief.  A nation that tortures people…well, you get the idea.  Too catastrophically bad for freedom and plain human decency that millions of other people in this country don’t.

Mark Drolette is a political satirist/commentator who lives in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at: Copyright © 2005 Mark Drolette. All rights reserved.

Other Articles by Mark Drolette

* J. Kenneth Blackwell: A Man All for Democracy, Except, Uh, When He’s Not
* The Mother of All Reports
* Are We There Yet?

* To the Viktor Go the Spoils