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As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, many ex-Bush administration officials who approved torture in the "war on terror" and botched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are back in the spotlight taking bows from appreciative audiences in tightly controlled settings.
Back in my native New York on Thursday afternoon, I was bolstered by a scene of what I call real New Yorkers (along with tourists and honking cab drivers) joining in a protest of the adulation bestowed on torture lawyer John Yoo at the swank University Club off Fifth Avenue.
What became gradually and reassuringly clear is that New York continues to be a tale of two cities. And those whom my grandmother used to call "the swells" remain a loud but increasingly transparent minority.
The hoi aristoi arrived at the club quite decked out in wide silk ties and pricey shoes to honor Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who drafted some of the most objectionable rationalizations for torturing detainees in the "war on terror." (He is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.)
My chatting with the hoi polloi on the street, who were supporting the protest, brought a welcome reminder that the self-important "meritocracy" of the
University Club -- "the suits and the shoes" as we call them -- hardly represent New York City.
That realization also generated some helpful adrenalin for later, when I traveled over to the 92nd Street Y for a panel discussion on "9/11 a Decade Later: Lessons Learned and Future Challenges," featuring former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and George W. Bush's press spokesman Ari Fleischer. The event, sponsored by the Jewish Policy Center, was moderated by neoconservative talk show host Michael Medved.
I found myself in the banal belly of the beast. To say I felt out of place would be an understatement. My discomfort grew as Medved's introductory remarks included a rant about radical, fundamentalist, Islamist terrorists.Welcoming Dissent -- NOT
But those weren't the only enemies to be feared. The event's "ushers" threw out a handful of folks because they were on the Jewish Policy Center's equivalent of a "no-fly list." They were preemptively and roughly removed before the event even got started.
I wore a new "Veterans for Peace" T-shirt (since the blood drawn when I protested at Hillary Clinton's speech last February would not wash out of the old one). [See: Ex-CIA Analyst Ray McGovern Beaten, Arrested for Silent Protest at Clinton Speech.]
This time, standing in the front row of the large theater in silent witness against Rumsfeld and his apologists on the panel and in the audience got me unceremoniously thrown out after a mere two minutes.
In coming to the Rumsfeld/Mukasey/Fleischer/Medved whitewash of the incompetence before 9/11 and then the aggressive wars and torture afterwards, I did not expect to be able to resume the four-minute impromptu debate I had lucked into with Rumsfeld on live TV on May 4, 2006, in Atlanta.
However, this discussion turned out to be so boring, with an occasional dash of disingenuousness thrown in about how "they" hate our democracy, that it was almost a relief not to have to sit, or stand, through it much longer -- waiting for the off-chance to debate Rumsfeld again.
A sympathetic policeman, when ordered to remove a young woman who stood up in protest later, commented, sotto voce, "I just don't understand how you could have sat there for as long as you did!"No Q&A This Time
It also was no surprise that no one was permitted to come to a mic to ask a question. This time questions had to be written on index cards and thoroughly vetted before being given to the speakers. Still less of a surprise was that the question I dutifully wrote on my index card did not make the cut. I wrote:
"Mr. Rumsfeld, why did you in November 2002 tell Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers to abort the armed service-and-intelligence-wide inquiry he had ordered his chief legal counsel, Navy Captain Jane Dalton to commission into methods of interrogation to which the judge advocates general of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force had strongly objected?"
Background: After over a year of study, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued on Dec. 11, 2008, a unanimous report ("Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody"), exposing in sordid detail the circumstances surrounding Rumsfeld's order to quash an inquiry into the legality of torture methods. (Much of the detail adduced below comes from the Senate report.)