Last Wednesday, the president held a news conference in the wake of that election thumpin’ in which he announced the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld, made (strained) jokes, pledged himself to bipartisan good feelings, and even volunteered to recommend some “Republican interior decorators” to help Nancy Pelosi pick out drapes for her new office. He spoke of his openness to new ideas on Iraq, even while swearing a somewhat contradictory fealty to “victory” in that country. (“And so, I’m committed to victory. I’m committed to helping this country so that we can come home.”)
Oh yes, and one more thing that no one seemed to notice he also swore his undying fealty to torture. Maybe reporters are so used to the president taking on the role of torturer in chief that no one even blinks; maybe the coded language fooled everyone; maybe what with the Democrats sweepin’ into Washington and Daddy’s guys, Baker and Gates, makin’ their return from the inside-the-Beltway wilderness too much else was going on. Whatever the explanation, the president’s plunkin’ for a torture regime went unreported.
So you read it here first. The torture moment came after the president had praised the new Democratic (or “Democrat” as he likes to say slurringly) leadership for caring for America’s security almost as much as he did. A reporter pointed out that on the campaign trail where he had all but equated their position with welcoming terrorists into the country he had given a somewhat different impression. In the exchange that followed, he highlighted the one issue on which he clearly felt, even in the new bipartisan Washington, he and the Democrats differed when it came to national security. Here was his response:
“Richard, I do believe [the Democratic leaders] care about the security. I don’t I thought they were wrong not making sure our professionals had the tools, and I still believe that. I don’t see how you can protect the country unless you give these professionals tools. They just have a different point of view. That doesn’t mean they don’t want America to get attacked [sic]. That’s why I said what I said.”
(That “sic,” by the way, isn’t mine. It’s up at the White House Web site. However, like so many mangled presidential sentences, this one probably represents a deep belief, not a mistake.)
Now, for those who don’t know it, making sure “our professionals have the tools” is just a slightly coded way to say "torture" (as well, undoubtedly, as "the unbridled right to secretly conduct surveillance on Americans"). Sometimes, the administration calls these “alternative interrogation techniques,” as in court recently where it claimed such “techniques” were “among the nation’s most sensitive national security secrets” so much so, in fact, that it was trying to get a federal judge to bar “terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons” from even revealing to their own lawyers details about what was done to them by American interrogators. However painless or bland the language, though, it’s the infliction of pain that’s at stake.
As it happens, a radical Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, kidnapped in Milan by a notoriously high-living group of CIA agents (five-star hotels and restaurants, Tuscan and Venetian vacation spots, all on the taxpayer dole) and shipped to Egypt evidently to be turned into a double agent, just smuggled an 11-page letter out of imprisonment. In it, he details some of the “tools” that were applied by “professionals” once he had been “rendered” to the Egyptians and put into their system of torture. According to Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, the imam
“also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed ‘the Bride’ and zapped with electric stun guns. On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner’s shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils.”
In our secret CIA prisons, as well as our Afghan and Iraqi detention centers, American pros have done similar things along with the well-known practice, never rejected by the president, of waterboarding or simulated drowning (“dunking” as the vice president was recently happy to call it). This, then, is what George W. Bush buried like a little IED in his bipartisan, set-a-new-tone, post-election news conference.
This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s Web site.