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(DV) Howell: "Protection" as Hype: Non-Sex Scandal Trumps Presidential Power Grab







“Protection” as Hype: Non-Sex Scandal Trumps
Presidential Power Grab  

by Lydia Howell
October 11, 2006

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I suppose it could just be coincidence that the latest “sex scandal” -- that of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fl) -- hit the news the day after Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA). It's certainly not at all unusual that the corporate-media is giving Foley, detailed, wall-to-wall coverage, while barely mentioning the MCA and not explaining what the bill means. 

Pundits express outrage over Foley's e-mails to Congressional pages, although law enforcement on NPR said that, while "inappropriate", most of the messages amounted to little more than "flirting" and hence, are not criminal. No sexual acts are alleged at all. The male objects of Foley's attention seem to have all been 16 or 17 years old -- who, while minors, are clearly not "children," as they are being referred to. Given what messages have been quoted, I suspect that most the young men Foley e-mailed have seen (and perhaps even written themselves) far more explicit material on MySpace
I'm not justifying adults' sexual interest towards teens (of either gender), however, I suspect Republicans will exploit Foley to reinforce the homophobia of their conservative Christian base. They certainly won't take responsibility for their leadership's failures to address the e-mails when they were first discovered. 
"Protect the children!" has long been the rightwing rally: from being a zygote in the womb to recognizing the reality that not everyone is heterosexual (even some of the youth themselves) to making sure students are not exposed to intellectual ideas and political analysis termed more "radical" than what rightwing think tanks deem acceptable -- even in college. Ultimately, the conservative call to “protect” children and youth is another empty slogan. 
Even in "progressive" Minnesota, where I live, the Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has cut funding for domestic violence shelters since 2002. Services for children impacted by domestic violence and abuse have long been neglected, even though it's now known children simply witnessing domestic violence (not even being hit themselves) is harmful: 60% of boys become batterers and 40$ of girls become victims. Over half the homeless population is mothers with children, many of them fleeing violence. Nightly, almost 1,000 Minnesota youth 13 to 21 are homeless, (mostly in Minneapolis and St. Paul) -- with about 200 shelter beds available for them. Youth on the streets are approached by pimps or other adult men seeking sex with them within 48 hours of running away from home. Half the youth on the streets are fleeing physical and/or sexual abuse in their homes. 
In fact, the majority of sexual abuse of children and teens is committed by a relative, stepparent or mother's boyfriend. This is similar to the sexual assault of women, where in 80% or more attacks, the perpetrator is known. Whether it's children and teens assaulted by those who are supposed to care for them the most or the majority of women surviving sexual assault, most of these cases are not even reported and when they are prosecuted too often receive relatively light sentences. The disconnect between the rhetoric of protection and the reality of how sexual violence is addressed is an unexamined contradiction. 
One in five American children live in poverty and millions have no access to healthcare. Protecting the wealth of the top 5% is a far higher political priority than protecting the well-being of poor children. 
Returning to the “timing” of the breaking story of the Foley non-sex scandal and protection, corporate media has failed to inform the American people that we have all lost some of the most basic protection: the rule of law. When Congress passed the Military Commission Act, it gave the Executive Branch the power to totally bypass judicial review and unilaterally define ANYone -- citizens of other countries, immigrants here and, yes, American citizens -- as "enemy combatants" or as having acted to "aid terrorist organizations or those hostile to the U.S." None of these terms is specifically defined and so can mean whatever the Bush Administration says they do -- and hence, be used against anyone the State targets. 
Torture was also redefined, making Abu Ghraib acts no longer torture at all. That means the revealed sexual abuse, being threatened with dogs, stress positions and “waterboarding” (near-drowning) are considered allowable. Even the Attorney General Albert Gonzales' and former Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo's torture memo definition that "real torture" means "organ failure" or "death" has been in effect, dropped. 
Now, a tactic already proven useful to rolling back civil rights laws is in place: focus on alleged perpetrators' "intent" NOT the impact of acts on the victim. In racial and gender discrimination cases, this has meant the question is “Did the company or individual INTEND to discriminate?” -- not looking at actions and their effect on the person charging discrimination. When it comes to torture, perpetrators can claim their intent was to "gain information," not to torture. 
This is completely against the Geneva Conventions. 
Theoretically, this means that even torturing detainees to death is legal, as long as it's claimed that the intent was not to torture or kill, but to "gain information." Never mind that even the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies acknowledge that information gained through torture is notoriously unreliable. One undeniable example is Iraq's alleged "nuclear program" and other WMDs, Collin Powell told the United Nations in order to justify the American invasion. The source of that information was an Iraqi detainee sent by the U.S. to Egypt and tortured. 
Why torture if any information gained is highly suspect? Because as all dictatorships know very well, torture is an effective technique to terrorize a population into submission. Just ask the people across Latin America, subjected to torturers, trained by the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Ask American men of color subjected to police brutality that the International Declaration of Human Rights recognizes as torture. American police chiefs and mayors rarely acknowledge police brutality even exists -- much less that groups like Amnesty International define it as torture. 
Domestic terrorism -- whether in the home or perpetrated by the U.S. government -- is the threat I worry about far more than the “evil-doers” Bush cites in every speech. It's not protection that the MCA seeks, but like every batterer, rapist or torturer, the aim is absolute control. Without the real protection of the rule of law, no one is safe.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet, activist and producer/host of Catalyst: Politics & Culture on KFAI Radio, archived for two weeks after broadcast at: www.kfai.org.

Other Articles by Lydia Howell

* Walking With The Ghosts of New Orleans
* The New Inquisition