America: What’s Next? (Or: The Same Old Song And Dance)

It seems like every presidential election in recent history, America is faced with a stark choice of either voting for change or voting for the end of the world.  In my time following politics, I often felt that these types of stark choices were often overblown. America, despite its bruises, was doing fine.  The world was not going to end if we voted for Republican Presidential Candidate A or Democratic Presidential Candidate B or Independent Presidential Candidate C.  Like a cat, America always landed on its feet.

After that fateful day on 9/11, America pulled it together.  We survived.

But I don’t feel that way now.  The stuff our government is doing in the name of 9/11, in the name of the “war on terror,” in the name of our safety, is troubling.  Extraordinary rendition.  Guantanamo.  Waterboarding.  Destroying tapes.  The blithe dismissal of international treaties.  The pathetic reasoning the government has come up with to do these things in our name, and the accompanying line of “yes men” experts justifying the adminstration’s conduct. 

It bothers me . . . a lot. It should bother you, too. 

Sure, its easy to point the finger at George Bush and his administration for ignoring the utmost principle that has carried this nation:  the rule of law. He’s an easy target, but criticisms against his policies clearly shouldn’t end with him. Bush has a lot of helpers.  That help comes not only in the form of people (i.e., Cheney, Gonzalez, Ashcroft, etc.), but also institutions (i.e., CIA, Department of State, Department of Defense, etc.).  When he’s gone, the institutions will still be there.  Who can replace Bush and bring about government wide change?  Who can replace Bush and change the environment that fostered the situation we are in now?

Looking at the candidates out there, both on the Republican and Democrat side, don’t give me a hell of a lot of solace.  There doesn’t appear to be much will for serious change, either in government or in the populace.  The majority of the arguments are based within the Bush paradigm of the “war on terror.”

For example, it’s never whether waterboarding is per se illegal, but whether it’s effective or not. It’s never whether extraordinary rendition violates both domestic and international law, but whether it’s a useful tool for garnering information. It’s never whether “suspects” in Guantanamo are afforded the right to habeas corpus, but whether we are fighting a successful “war on terror.”

The paradigm needs to change. We are arguing under premises that we assuming are correct. The populace and those in government are putting the cart before the horse.

If you can protect us from terrorist attacks, then why should we bother?  If you are fighting this war on terror, why should we dare question your tactics?  If there are foreign terrorists out there, why does the U.S. have to treat those foreign terrorists with dignity or in accordance to international treaties that we ourselves helped draft?  If we are the U.S., the most powerful nation in the world, shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we want so long as we think it’s right? 

My main concern is not who will lead America once Bush is gone, but whether the institutions within our government are capable of true change and whether the citizens of this country will start waking up and realizing that a country that puts its safety above the rule of law is a country that has no rule of law to begin with.

I’m no Republican, but the what the hell happened to that party?  Remember when they stood for smaller government (even when they were expanding it) and particularly for respecting the constitution? To be sure, in my earlier age, I was a Republican. They seemed like the party that respected the constitution (or at least appeared to).  Now what the hell happened?  The constitution is a stumbling block for their three favorite words:  war on terror.  Why is that the answer to just about everything? War on Terror.  War on Terror.  War on Terror.  It’s like some kind of strange mantra.

And the Democrats?  They’re still stuck in a 1992 pipe dream when Clinton was president.  Their mantra is: Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton.  Sorry to break it to you, democrats, but he’s no longer president.  Democrats need true vision that looks forward, not one that is wedded to an embossed past.  Democrats need definition.  They have none and they need one fast. The democrats lost in 2004 not because the American public was duped. The democrats lost in 2004 because they had no candidate and certainly no platform.

So, what’s next for America?  The same old, same old, for sure.

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001. The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.

Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.

In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.

The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.

These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

You can find this NY Times Editorial here.

Hoover Planned Mass Jailings in 1950 (Or: President Bush, sound familiar?)

The New York Times reported in an article published today that J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison over 12,000 Americans he believed were a “threat” to the United States. That was over 50 years ago.

What is most disturbing is that those in government who find the Hoover idea absurd are the very ones that so strongly advocate for the government’s actions to suspend certain rights after 9/11 in the name of “safety” and “national security.” Earth to those people: it’s the same damn thing.

We have seen this after 9/11 with President Bush’s attempt to suspend habeas corpus with those he declared to be “enemy combatants” (for their sake, the Supreme Court had their say about the habeas corpus issue as to American citizens). We have seen this with extraordinary rendition. We have seen this with waterboarding. All this is supposedly in “our interest” . . . safety, after all, is paramount, right?

We should gladly acquiesce to our rights being suspended? Father Government, please protect us from the terrorists! And, by the way, here is a blank check to do whatever you need to do? It will only be temporary, right, once we win the war on terror?
Earth to those people: don’t you know that it’s not temporary?

The Framers of the constitution had a much different view. The biggest danger to society is not outside enemies like terrorists but the government itself. How do you control the government? How do you prevent them from trampling on the Bill of Rights?

The Framers created a simple, yet effective, method of checks and balances to prevent the tyranny of government from taking hold in the name of our safety and protection. Of course, you can have both a democratic government and safety, but a government that puts safety in front of democracy and the rule of law … well, that no longer is a democracy or one that operates under the rule of law.

The lesson of the Hoover documents not only show what a nut job he was, but how government has used threats to America’s security as a justification for suspending the constitution and the rule of law. There will always be threats. 9/11 today. 9/11 tomorrow. War on terror today. War on terror tomorrow.

Our perspective on terrorism and how we deal with it has clearly changed since that fateful day, but the rules on which the government operates certainly has not. Somehow the Bush administration and the Congress, both democrat and republican, have forgotten that.

It’s time to remind them.

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty. Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau. The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush administration’s decision to hold suspects for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress and the Supreme Court today. The Constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended “unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” The plan proposed by Hoover, the head of the F.B.I. from 1924 to 1972, stretched that clause to include “threatened invasion” or “attack upon United States troops in legally occupied territory.”

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued an order that effectively allowed the United States to hold suspects indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges. In September 2006, Congress passed a law suspending habeas corpus for anyone deemed an “unlawful enemy combatant.” But the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of American citizens to seek a writ of habeas corpus. This month the court heard arguments on whether about 300 foreigners held at Guantánamo Bay had the same rights. It is expected to rule by next summer.Hoover’s plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of cold-war documents concerning intelligence issues from 1950 to 1955. The collection makes up a new volume of “The Foreign Relations of the United States,” a series that by law has been published continuously by the State Department since the Civil War.

Hoover’s plan called for “the permanent detention” of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The F.B.I., he said, had found that the arrests it proposed in New York and California would cause the prisons there to overflow. So the bureau had arranged for “detention in military facilities of the individuals apprehended” in those states, he wrote. The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel made up of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings “will not be bound by the rules of evidence,” his letter noted.The only modern precedent for Hoover’s plan was the Palmer Raids of 1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids, executed in large part by Hoover’s intelligence division, swept up thousands of people suspected of being communists and radicals.

Previously declassified documents show that the F.B.I.’s “security index” of suspect Americans predated the cold war. In March 1946, Hoover sought the authority to detain Americans “who might be dangerous” if the United States went to war. In August 1948, Attorney General Tom Clark gave the F.B.I. the power to make a master list of such people. Hoover’s July 1950 letter was addressed to Sidney W. Souers, who had served as the first director of central intelligence and was then a special national-security assistant to Truman. The plan also was sent to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, whose members were the president, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the military chiefs. In September 1950, Congress passed and the president signed a law authorizing the detention of “dangerous radicals” if the president declared a national emergency. Truman did declare such an emergency in December 1950, after China entered the Korean War. But no known evidence suggests he or any other president approved any part of Hoover’s proposal.

9/11 Panel Study Finds That C.I.A. Withheld Tapes (Or: No, Really?)

The New York Times reported in an article published today that the 9/11 Panel study found that the CIA withheld tapes of its interrogation program. Although the report did not opine that withholding the tapes was illegal, it certainly underscores a disturbing pattern of conduct by an organization intent on preventing any transparency whatsoever into its operations.

Moreover, the 9/11 Panel Study, when read in conjunction with the current congressional investig on the CIA’s interrogation techniques, show that the government’s reasoning for the destruction of the tapes — i.e., to protect the agents’ identity — is suspect. Indeed, the government’s strained attempt to portray its destruction of the tapes as an aberrant act by a misguided military official obstructs the more poignant issue that the CIA’s destruction and withholding of tapes is part of a larger, institutionalized pattern of misconduct.

It’s time that the CIA stop hiding behind legal mumbo jumbo and start cooperating with the body of government, Congress, meant to act as a constitutional check behind its activities. But given its course of conduct, you have to ask yourself whether “cooperating” and following the “spirit of the law” is outside their official vocabulary. Maybe someone should remind them that the CIA is not above the law.

Something perhaps even more interesting than the withholding of tapes has come out of this. Apparently, the CIA does have a “few” tapes of interrogations done in other countries. What are we really talking about when the CIA says “interrogations done in other countries”? No, not job interviews, but extraordinary rendition.

Congress should grow some cojones and demand for a review of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. After all, when the U.S. government forcibly takes a terror suspect and brings that individual to another country to be interrogated, and that individual is subsequently tortured, then the U.S. is vicariously liable for those acts which are foreseeable. Of course, we are talking about more than simply the legal concept of foreseeability, but rather a planned program by the CIA to use torture — either at their own hands or its partners — as a method of interrogation in the name of “safety” and the “war on terror.”

Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency had gone to “great lengths” to meet the commission’s requests, and that commission members had been provided with detailed information obtained from interrogations of agency detainees. “Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active,” Mr. Mansfield said.

Intelligence officials have said the tapes that were destroyed documented hundreds of hours of interrogations during 2002 of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, two Qaeda suspects who were taken into C.I.A. custody that year. According to the memorandum from Mr. Zelikow, the commission’s interest in obtaining accounts from Qaeda detainees in C.I.A. custody grew out of its attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Its requests for documents from the C.I.A. began in June 2003, when it first sought intelligence reports describing information obtained from prisoner interrogations, the memorandum said. It later made specific requests for documents, reports and information related to the interrogations of specific prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.

In December 2003, the commission staff sought permission to interview the prisoners themselves, but was permitted instead to give questions to C.I.A. interrogators, who then posed the questions to the detainees. The commission concluded its work in June 2004, and in its final report, it praised several agencies, including the C.I.A., for their assistance. Abbe D. Lowell, a veteran Washington lawyer who has defended clients accused of making false statements and of contempt of Congress, said the question of whether the agency had broken the law by omitting mention of the videotapes was “pretty complex,” but said he “wouldn’t rule it out.”

Because the requests were not subpoenas issued by a court or Congress, C.I.A. officials could not be held in contempt for failing to respond fully, Mr. Lowell said. Apart from that, however, it is a crime to make a false statement “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch.” The Sept. 11 commission received its authority from both the White House and Congress.

On Friday, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, asking them to preserve and produce to the committee all remaining video and audio recordings of “enhanced interrogations” of detainees in American custody.

Signed by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the letter asked for an extensive search of the White House, C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies to determine whether any other recordings existed of interrogation techniques “including but not limited to waterboarding.”
Government officials have said that the videos destroyed in 2005 were the only recordings of interrogations made by C.I.A. operatives, although in September government lawyers notified a federal judge in Virginia that the agency had recently found three audio and video recordings of detainees.

Intelligence officials have said that those tapes were not made by the C.I.A., but by foreign intelligence services.

Justice Department Seeks Delay on C.I.A. Inquiry (Or: Things That Make You Go WTF!!))

The New York Times reported in an article published today, “Justice Department Seeks Delay on C.I.A. Inquiry,” by David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti, that the Justice Department has sought a delay on the current Congressional Hearings on the CIA’s blatant destruction of videotapes.

Perhaps “sought” or “seeks” is not a good word. The Justice Department, in all its fame and glory and adherence to the rule of law, has forced a delay on the current Congressional Hearings by refusing to comply with Congressional requests for information. Let’s make the words clear though. “Requests” are actually subpoenas, not simply, “Hey, Justice Department, would you mind coming here and providing this information over tea and cookies?” No, a subpoena is: “Justice Department, you are required by law to provide this information and if you don’t you will be found in contempt.”

What’s the Justice Department’s reasoning for this? I’m sure it’s the same idiot attorney or attorneys who wrote memos on why the United States is not part of the Geneva Convention, who said: to “avoid[] any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” Huh? Isn’t that exactly what the Justice Department is in fact being accused of because of withholding the information?

Add this wrinkle: the Justice Department may have played a role in the CIA’s destruction of the videotapes. So, the theory goes, the Justice Department should do their own investigation. And, as for the CIA? Well, they should do their own investigation, too. And all these investigations should be done first, before an oversight body, like friggin Congress, has their chance. Interesting. Let the blind lead the blind.

At a point, certain types of conduct prevent an institution’s right to “investigate” it themselves, at the exclusion of an outside body. This is not some tax audit issue or something along those lines. This is severe and conscious criminal conduct implicating two behemoth institutions that have conspired to abuse power and violate the rule of law, either through their own preservation, their misguided attempt to fight the war on terror, or more ominously, directions from those who work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Justice Department has failed to administer justice. They now can’t say they have the right to do a “preliminary investigation” without any oversight. Sorry Justice Department. You lost that chance in 2005 when you had the chance to do a preliminary investigation. Too late now to be crying foul.

The Justice Department asked the House Intelligence Committee on Friday to postpone its investigation into the destruction of videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005, saying the Congressional inquiry presented “significant risks” to its own preliminary investigation into the matter. The department is taking an even harder line with other Congressional committees looking into the matter, and is refusing to provide information about any role it might have played in the destruction of the videotapes. The recordings covered hundreds of hours of interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda.

The Justice Department and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have begun a preliminary inquiry into the destruction of the tapes, and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said the department would not comply with Congressional requests for information now because of “our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” Over all, the position taken by Mr. Mukasey, who took office last month, represented what Justice Department officials described as an effort to caution Congress against meddling in the tapes case and other politically explosive criminal cases.

The Justice Department request was met with anger from both Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, who said the department was trying to interfere with their investigation. The committee had summoned two C.I.A. officials to testify at a hearing next week, a session that will now almost certainly be postponed. The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes, and in a written statement on Friday, the two senior members of the panel said they were “stunned” by the Justice Department’s request.

The lawmakers, Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, and Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, threatened to issue subpoenas to get testimony and other information from the C.I.A. “There is no basis upon which the attorney general can stand in the way of our work,” they said. The committee had demanded that the C.I.A. produce all cables, memorandums and e-mail messages related to the videotapes, as well as the legal advice given to agency officials before the tapes were destroyed. Friday’s deadline passed without the arrival of any of those C.I.A. records on Capitol Hill. The inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress began after the disclosure last week that the C.I.A. had videotaped the 2002 interrogations of two Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The tapes were destroyed in November 2005 in a decision that the current C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was not in charge of the agency at the time, has said was made “in line with the law” to protect the security of C.I.A. officers who took part in the questioning. The preliminary joint inquiry by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. is aimed at determining how the tapes were destroyed, who authorized their destruction, and whether the action violated the law. The C.I.A. did not provide the tapes to the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks or to authorities that have sought to prosecute terrorism suspects in the courts.

The Congressional inquiries, by the House and Senate intelligence committees and other panels, are largely moving on a parallel track, but are also trying to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that C.I.A. officers had used outlawed interrogation techniques. The Justice Department request to the House committee was made in a letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein and John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, who are leading the preliminary criminal investigation. “Our ability to obtain the most reliable and complete information would likely be jeopardized if the C.I.A. undertakes the steps necessary to respond to your requests in a comprehensive fashion at this time,” the letter said.

Mr. Wainstein and Mr. Helgerson asked the committee’s “indulgence,” and promised to advise the panel on when it might resume its inquiry without jeopardizing their own investigation. But they said they could not say when the Justice Department inquiry might be completed and asked to pursue their investigation at the appropriate pace. The House Intelligence Committee has been hoping to hear testimony next week from two C.I.A. witnesses: Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former leader of the agency’s clandestine branch, who is said to have ordered the destruction of the tapes, and John A. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer.

Mark Mansfield, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to comment directly on the Justice Department’s letter. “Director Hayden has said the agency would cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by D.O.J. and the C.I.A’s inspector general and with the Congress,” he said. “That has been and certainly is the case.” The exchanges came as Republicans in the Senate moved on Friday to strip language from a bill that would have prohibited the C.I.A. from using what the White House has called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which allow the use of methods more aggressive than those permitted by other agencies. The House has approved a measure containing the prohibition, but the Senate action, together with a veto threat from President Bush, made it unlikely that it would become law.

Mr. Mukasey was rebuffing requests from the Congressional committees that oversee the Justice Department. The committees sent him letters this week demanding information about the department’s role in the destruction of the tapes and in other issues related to the possible recording of interrogations. “At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Mukasey wrote in one letter. Accordingly, he went on, “I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter.”

That letter was sent on Friday to Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican. Mr. Leahy said Friday that he was disappointed that “the Department of Justice declined to provide us, either publicly or in a classified setting, with any of the information Senator Specter and I have requested.”

“This committee needs to fully understand whether the government used cruel interrogation techniques and torture, contrary to our basic values,” Mr. Leahy added.

Waterboarding (Or: What the hell are we doing?)

Waterboarding is a technique used to simulate drowning. A prisoner is put on a board, with his/her head sloping down. The interrogator pours water over the prisoner’s face, which causes water to be inhaled into the lungs. Since humans, as far as I know, can’t breath water or liquid (except maybe in the movie The Abyss), the prisoner will gag and the prisoner will think he/she is dying because he/she can’t breathe.

Needless to say, it can cause some serious psychological damage, as well as physical damage . . . damage that often lasts longer than the actual event. As John McCain has commented, imagine having a gun held to your head and firing a blank. Nothing I want to be put through.

According to the CIA, it appears that if there is no blood (or at least not a lot of blood) then there’s no foul. But one thing is for certain. If police did this to citizens charged with crimes, their confessions would be thrown out of court and the police would be subject to a 1983 civil rights violation. Then why was the CIA allowed to conduct waterboarding on terrorist suspects or those that it considers to be enemy combatants or some new legal class of persons that one of the White House lawyers made up after a long night sniffing glue?

Well, with the CIA’s track record of extraordinary rendition and the government’s mess with Guantanamo, what’s another candle in the proverbial cake of “government abuse of power”? And, even though waterboarding has technically been outlawed, do you really think the CIA is following that mandate? I can only imagine some whack job CIA attorney writing some memo entitled, “Waterboarding is not torture if we use orange juice.” In the same vein, I can only imagine some whack job White House attorney writing some memo entitled, “Waterboarding is not torture if we kidnap the suspect and send him to Egypt to get waterboarded.”

What other torture methods are the CIA using that are beyond the scope of checks by either congress or the justice system (we all know that the current executive branch is useless when it comes to “checks”)? What gets me is how the Republicans thought Clinton split hairs over language (it depends on what the definition of “is” is). Yeah, Clinton ejaculated on Monica’s dress. But you know what? He didn’t ejaculate on the constitution day in and day out.

But the other interesting line of questioning is when is waterboarding or other forms of torture justifiable by the U.S. government? In this neverending “war on terror,” it appears that the ends justify the means. If it can prevent a terrorist attack, then dammit, we need to waterboard and, hell, we need to burn them on a stake if necessary! We’re fighting terrorists, not boy scouts! Give me a break.

That’s essentially what the U.S. government is saying. And that’s extremely disturbing, because that’s exactly what the framers of the constitution tried to protect the people from. Our constitution prevents that very argument. The ends never justify the means when due process and the equal protection of the laws are violated. Although ex-CIA agent Mike Kiriakou believed that he thought waterboarding is something “Americans should not do,” he still felt the technique worked. Did it though and at what expense? And let me ask you this, Mr. Golden Child Mike Kirakou. How many of these suspects did you waterboard that were completely innocent? I know “completely innocent” is not a word in the CIA’s vocabulary. You were just following orders, heh?

The American government should treat any suspect — whether a citizen or not a citizen or a pseudo-something a la enemy combatant — the same: with dignity and under procedures that respect the constitution. It is very difficult to trust a government that purports to treat its citizens fairly and those who are not unfairly. When the government is straining to make such distinctions, you have to ask yourself whether there is even one to begin with. Further, when you fight for the rights of non-citizens and the pseudo classifications of people like an enemy combatant, you are essentially fighting for your rights. If the American government can torture and violate the rights of individuals that utterly shock the conscience without impunity or consequence, then do you really think they won’t do the same to you? Wake up and smell the facism.

Now don’t get me wrong because I’m citing “technicalities” such as constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. Don’t call me some “soft on terror liberal cocksucker.” Law enforcement has a lot of leeway when it comes to interrogating suspects. They should do it zealously and relentlessly. But, I would have thought after World War II, there would be a damn clear bright line when it came to torture. That’s off limits for the American government. And it’s off limits for any government, and in particular, any government that our C – I – friggin A sends a suspect to.

9/11 did not change the constitution. It certainly changed our perspective. But 9/11 did not change the rules of the game. I was there in Manhattan on 9/11. I saw the planes hit. I saw the buildings collapse. I have the dust on my clothes. I have friends who died. I’m pissed, too, at the terrorists who did such a thing. But I’m also pissed at our government who has used 9/11 as a casus belli to do whatever the fuck it wants. Time to take it back.

Torture is never justifiable under any circumstances. Period. No exceptions.