November 28, 2006

We Don't Torture . . . Wink, Wink . . .

Cheney publicly endorses water boarding while performing the lying wrestling manager routine.

The White House big lie spin machine was busy working overtime this week, denying that Vice President Cheney had just publicly endorsed a policy of torturing selected individuals unfortunate enough to fall into U.S. custody.

Cheney's remarks came during an interview last Tuesday with a Fargo, North Dakota radio station. The host asked the vice president whether or not "a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives." To which Cheney dutifully replied, "Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

What is Water Boarding?
The water board torture dates back to the 1500s during the Italian Inquisition. A prisoner, who is bound and gagged, has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown. Many variations exist but the principle is the same. Water boarding was a favorite past time of the Pinochet dictatorship and was also popular during Pol Pot's murderous rule in Cambodia.

Of course, as nearly everyone knows by now, the only real no-brainer around the White House these days is the president. But what can we make of Cheney's machiavellian remarks on the eve of mid-term elections in which the Republicans face a possible loss of control over the House and perhaps even the Senate? Clearly, Cheney knew what he was saying, he's a man that chooses his words very carefully. We believe he was suggesting -- in deliberately ambiguous language -- that his adminstration had used and will continue to employ torture on those it declares to be terrorists. The unstated flip side of these statements is equally revealing, and reads something like, "And those wimpy liberals and Democrats would play by the rules and endanger our national security."

The resulting compromise with the White House left the president with the power to determine what means of interogation would be employed . . . power normally reserved for kings, dictators and emperors.

One might ask, 'So why does he bother denying it?' Here, the explanation is a bit more complicated. First of all, there was the Senator John McCain factor. McCain, a former POW tortured while held by the North Vietnamese, had just made a rather extensive public showing of his supposed opposition to a U.S. policy of torturing prisoners. While the public was told that torture would be taken off the table, the resulting compromise with the White House left the president with the power to determine what means of interogation would be employed, and legislated that those means would be both secret and at the sole discretion of the president -- power normally reserved for kings, dictators and emperors. In other words, what was morally unfit to pass through the front door was instead allowed to sneak in through the rear.

Cheney's statements were designed to protect the White House from both criminal prosecution for war crimes and to reassure the faithful not to worry, "We ain't afraid to water board the SOBs." It's a brazen big lie tactic made popular in the make-believe word of professional wrestling. Anyone who has ever watched a pro-wrestling match (admit it, you've probably watched at least a couple in your life time) has seen the one where the "good guy" gets beaten over the head with a chair by the "bad guy." The manager of the bad guy, who typically looks like T.V. evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and actually had handed the chair to his wrestler himself, turns and tells the announcer, "What chair? That was a perfectly legal body slam."

Now, nobody really believes the wrestling manager's lies but the way the game is played, telling the lie absolves the wrestler from taking responsibility for his actions, while the referee can be counted on to have his back turned while the bad guy slugs the good guy with the chair. Likewise, by telling transparent lies about not supporting torture Cheney benefits by both maintaining deniability and by scoring points with his supporter base -- while the referee in this case, the Republican Congress, gets to turn its own back on what's happening behing closed doors. All you need to do is substitute water boards for chairs.

Snow Job
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Tony Snow, up until recently a talking head for Fox News, tried his best to pull off his own rendition of the lying wrestling manager routine. Although he apparently wound up sounding more like Bud Abbott doing his famous "Who's on First" vaudeville routine, with the Lou Costello role being played by the press:

Q Then how can you say that he's not referring to water boarding, when it was very clear, when you look at the whole context, not only that specific question --

MR. SNOW: Does the word --

Q -- but the one before?

MR. SNOW: Did the word "water boarding" appear?

Q It came up in the context of talking about interrogation techniques and the entire debate that has been conducted in this country.

MR. SNOW: I understand that. I'll tell you what the Vice President said. You can push all you want, wasn't referring to water boarding and would not talk about techniques.

Q Let's back it up here for a second, because what we're saying is -- and I've got the transcript -- "Would you agree a dunk in water is a 'no-brainer' that can save lives?" Vice President: "It's a 'no-brainer' for me." Tony --

MR. SNOW: Read the rest of the answer.

Q What could "dunk in the water" refer to if not water boarding?

MR. SNOW: I'm just telling you -- I'm telling you the Vice President's position. I will let you draw your own conclusions, because you clearly have. He says he wasn't talking --

Q I haven't drawn any conclusions. I'm asking for an explanation about what "dunk in the water" could mean.

MR. SNOW: How about a dunk in the water?

Q So, wait a minute, so "dunk in the water" means what, we have a pool now at Guantanamo, and they go swimming?

MR. SNOW: Are you doing stand up? (Laughter.)

Q I'm asking -- well, let's start with something basic. Dunk in the water refers to what? If it doesn't refer to water boarding, tell me what it could possibly refer to?

MR. SNOW: No, because the transcript is there. You read it, you interpret it. I'm telling you what the Vice President says. He says he wasn't referring --

Q What other way is there to interpret this?

MR. SNOW: What you're saying is the Vice President is wrong in reporting what he says. I'm sorry. I'm telling you what the Vice President says. I can't go any further, and I'm not going to engage in what-could-he-mean because he said what he meant. He said -- he said he wasn't talking about water boarding.


White House Press Conference, October 27, 2006.

Abu Ghraib Torture Photos.