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ABSURD’S THE WORD:Condoleezza Rice versus Harold Pinter

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It's happening, isn't it? The fog is lifting. Enormous shifts of opinion at the last minute. And not just about the wars. About the belief system that sustains the wars, the dark hearts of those who run the wars, the malice of a media that sells the wars.

The climax has been a long time coming and is still unfolding. The Wicked Witch of the West flies to Europe to deliver a major speech, one that explains why US torture isn't really torture. To deprive a wounded suspect of sleep, stand him in a freezing cell for "long hours", tie him "feet-up to a water board" and dunk him under water until the brink of death, is within the law. How come? Because President Bush says so. Secret CIA kidnappings in foreign countries are also legal, according to Condoleezza Rice, because anyone loosely deemed an "al-Qaeda affiliate" and "far from their original home" is "effectively stateless" and eligible for kidnap. By this definition Condoleezza herself is "effectively stateless", as are the agents of the CIA, who are also former al-Qaeda affiliates. Thus, they too can be "legally" abducted and transported to torture chambers.

This is absurd. And that's the point. The Rice doctrine, first delivered at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland on Dec 5, and since re-iterated during her European whistle stop, is a tactic that pushes the art of spin beyond the edge of sanity. It does for truth what the Atomic bomb did for Hiroshima. "The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances", she claims, even as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posts forty-four US Military autopsy reports that provide "indisputable proof that detainees are being tortured to death while in US military custody", and highlights extensive abuse of US detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 through to 2004.
Former US army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, until recently chief of staff to Colin Powell, has told the BBC that between 70 and 90 prisoners have died in "questionable circumstances". But you know all that, as will many who heard Rice's ridiculous speech. Ridiculous on purpose.

In the same week that British playwright Harold Pinter formally accepts the Nobel Prize for creating his macabre comedy of contradiction, Condoleezza Rice puts the Theatre of the Absurd onto the global political stage. Suddenly, secret renditions and waterboarding are "permissible under international law", she tells the Germans, who must be astonished. Such techniques didn't go down so well at Nuremburg.

Even the CIA was caught on the hop. Remember their March 2003 gangster-style kidnap of "radical cleric" Abu Omar from the streets Milan? The CIA assumed it was against the law. That's why they phoned the Italian anti-terror police and put them off the scent with a deliberate lie: "Omar's fled to the Balkans". Actually, he was being bundled to Egypt for a spell of water sports and "environmental manipulation" (Rumsfeld's term for inducing hypothermia, an illegal practice he authorized in April 2003). The lie was unnecessary, according to the Rice doctrine, because any unlawful acts committed by Americans abroad are now lawful.

Neat, huh? But some nations are slow to catch on. In Condoleezza's view, the Italians have failed to "adapt" to the Alice in Wonderland worldview. "The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights", fumes Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor in Milan, "but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe. In fact, if Abu Omar had not been kidnapped, he would now be in prison, subject to a regular trial, and we would have probably identified his other accomplices."
<,0,3778350.story?coll=ny-world-big-pix>. Italian authorities are still seeking the extradition of 22 CIA operatives, but they haven't got a hope in hell. The Roman Empire is long gone. Another Empire bestrides the world, making up the law as it goes along.

Ironically, at the same time as Condoleezza Rice enters the realm of the absurd, a master of the genre, Harold Pinter, enters the stage as a statesman. Both speeches were delivered in the same week, and are worth comparing.

RICE: The United States and many other countries are waging a war against terrorism. For our country this war often takes the form of conventional military operations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

PINTER: The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

RICE: International law allows a state to detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities. Detainees may only be held for an extended period if the intelligence or other evidence against them has been carefully evaluated and supports a determination that detention is lawful.

PINTER: Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'.

RICE: The United States is a country of laws. My colleagues and I have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We believe in the rule of law.

PINTER: The US quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent.

RICE: We consider the captured members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing innocents.

PINTER: How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.

RICE: The United States [and its allies] will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists.

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Richard Neville has been a practicing futurist since 1963, when he launched the countercultural magazine, Oz, which widened the boundaries of free speech on two continents. He has written several books, including Playpower (71), the bio of a global (more...)
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