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Playing Footsie

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Message Jayne Stahl

While President Bush has been busy staking out his legacy, and distinguishing himself as "the torture president," a phrase coined by counsel for Human Rights Watch, both Democratic presidential candidates were playing footsie under the table instead of putting extraordinary rendition, and prisoner abuse squarely on the table where it belongs. Recent hints from the Clinton camp suggest more than idle flirtation, but a faux covert effort at coalition.

The question isn't so much whether a pairing of the two would pose a threat to the Republican ticket, but whether or not it could lead to a McCain mutiny. So far, Senator McCain has all but bent over backwards to show his support of the president, even going so far as to reverse his former positions on waterboarding, and tax cuts.

But, yesterday, with his veto of legislation that would have precluded the Central Intelligence Agency from engaging in "enhanced alternative interrogation" methods, the president flexed his revisionist muscles suggesting that even the bionic man would be hard-pressed to emulate his ardor for payback. Bush's veto flies in the face not merely of the Geneva Conventions, but of the new Army Field Manual which, in 2006, specifically prohibited waterboarding, but why should our intelligence agents be barred from practices that are denied to our military?

True to his 2000 election "compassionate conservative" stance, Mr. Bush has decided that sensory deprivation, and strapping someone down to simulate drowning, should be retained as "specialized interrogation" options for the CIA. which the president considers among the many "tools" needed "to stop the terrorists." (AP) But what tools are needed to stop the likes of Bush, Cheney, Mukasay, and McCain?

Had enough yet? Or, are you ready for a second helping? How much more of this insanity can you stand? Can it be that apathy is nondenominational?

Like the president, both Hillary and Barack are busy, both are auditioning for instant remakes of "Jaws," and "Jaws lite," vying for first place with the proverbial photo op, showing teeth, and raising blood pressure, doing everything but talk about the core issues like what their position is on nuclear proliferation, what they intend to do about Iran, what specific economic policies they have to bring relief to the vast majority of us who are hurting as a result of the Republican regime's self-inflicted recession, whether or not withdrawing troops means pulling contractors from Baghdad, too, and what noises they are prepared to make with respect to Afghanistan, North Korea, the Middle East.

Moreover, while the Obama camp has been actively combating rumors of his Muslim roots, which the Clinton camp has been just as busy disowning, neither candidate affirms the First Amendment separation between church and state.

We need to hear, too, now more than ever, how they feel about the insidious, and morally bankrupt, practice of using American aircraft to transport detainees, in our custody, to secret holding cells overseas where there is no oversight with respect to what the president memorably terms "specialized" interrogation techniques.

What's more, when Colombia invaded Ecuador, last week, why is it that they did so with both Hillary and Barack's endorsement? How is it that both candidates who claim to abjure the invasion of Iraq gave unceremonious blessings in support of Colombia's acts of pre-emption in the name of self-defense, as well as Bush's stigmatizing of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez? Can we expect the Bush doctrine to carry on regardless of which party occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January, 2009?

Why is it, too, that we hear no more about genocide, or the nightmare that is Darfur or Kenya than we do about state-sanctioned torture, from either Democratic candidate?

And, why so little attention being paid to the fact that fully one third of global AIDS funding, by this president, comes with an abstinence-only requirement? The president's "emergency plan," which expires this year, allows for another $30 billion. Notably, of the $18 billion already spent on this program, $6 billion delivers a virtual death sentence in its efforts to preserve Bush's absurd, and unrealistic, abstinence-only mandate. Importantly, we hear nothing on this issue from Obama or Clinton, but instead only who supported allocating funds for Iraq, in 2002, and who didn't.

Oh, yes, and what about Republican presidential nominee-designate, John McCain, whose signature flip-flopping on the issue of waterboarding goes to show that Dolly the sheep isn't the only celebrity cloning in our lifetime. Indeed, whatever moderate posturing we saw from the Arizona senator, over the past eight years, will be swiftly erased by his egregious kowtowing to the most conservative elements of his party.

With his innuendos of a possible Clinton-Obama match-up, how well-suited Bill Clinton appears to be for the role of the Fool in any of Shakespeare's tragedies; we now look to Bill for truth, not Hillary. Talk about dramatic irony!

And, when he announced yesterday that a combo ticket would be "almost unstoppable," one couldn't help but think that the only things more unstoppable are the insipid campaign promises, and politics of evasion with respect to foreign policy, and the economic quicksand in which we presently find ourselves.

Unless all contenders for president, regardless of party affiliation, step up to the plate, and start talking turkey about torture, they may well be accused of contributing to the delinquency of a nation.

We need to know now where each candidate stands with respect to waterboarding, and other "specialized" tactics, as well as how our detainee ethics impact upon our national security in the largest possible sense.

It's time to quit playing footsie with the public trust, and get to work

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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