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"a little silly"

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Message Jayne Stahl
If folks in Congress, of both parties, as well as the news media can spend 2 consecutive weeks talking of little else besides salacious instant messages sent by Rep. Mark Foley to a teenage page, they can figure out a way to squeeze in news of the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, dubious interrogation techniques, secret terror cells, as well as this vice president's insolent dismissal of allegations that he finds waterboarding, a method of torture that dates back to the Inquisition, acceptable. Why not put extraordinary rendition back on the front page instead of all this gratuitous tripe about the Virginia Senate race?

Do we care more about obscenity of thought, word, and image than obscenity in action? Maybe, instead of an election, a week from Tuesday, we should have a slumber party because most Americans seem to care more about Lynne Cheney's lesbian novel of 20 years ago than her husband's implied heads-up for a practice that has been universally condemned as torture for more than a generation. You'll recall, back in 1901, the method some have referred to as the "water cure" earned Major Edwin Glenn 10 years of hard labor after he was convicted of having given an Insurgent, in the Philippines, a "dunk in the water." How Mr. Cheney can consider as a "no brainer" an interrogation technique, waterboarding, for which U.S. military commissions prosecuted, and convicted, several Japanese as war criminals in World War II is, in a word, incredible. Clearly, history was not this vice president's major.

In his much-quoted interview with conservative talk show host Scott Hennen of WDAY in Fargo, N.D., the vice president agreed that "a dunk in the water is a no-brainer if it can save lives." (Washington Post) Yet, not too long ago, a president was impeached for fine tuning the definition of sex when he lied to a grand jury about his affair with a White House intern. Oh, so it's okay to tweak the definition of torture, but not of sex. Or, maybe the issue is lying to a grand jury; lying to the press, the American people, and Congress doesn't count. It seems Mr. Cheney has worked with this president for so long that everything has now become "a no brainer" to him.

President Clinton, you'll recall, said he didn't consider "oral sex" sex in much the same way this vice president thinks that "a slam dunk" has nothing to do with waterboarding. We can only hope that the vice president will be given the chance to testify about this before a grand jury, after the election, when the Democrats take Congress as the kind of skewered logic that condones torture by linguistic sleight of hand is impeachable, in the best sense of the word. And when the White House press secretary contends that a "dunk in the water" was not meant as anything more than that, clearly the same form of sophistry is applied; only this kind of sophistry is far more pernicious than anything that any previous president intended.This administration is making the same argument when it comes to torture, as evidenced by Mr. Cheney's remarks,aboard Air Force Two, last night when he insisted that he "didn't say anything about waterboarding," and "didn't even use that word."

To add insult to injury, the vice president also agreed with WDAY talk show host that discussions about interrogation techniques are, in his words, "a little silly" while, simultaneously, praising information obtained from detainees as a result of these techniques. (WaPo). Has the vice president paid a visit to Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraid, or other bordellos of butchery in Iraq, and Afghanistan lately? Indeed, this "end justifies the means" logic is fit for Mephistopheles, but not those who fancy themselves leaders of the free world.

Just think, for a minute, about where western civilization would be now if those who met in Geneva, more than 50 years ago, to pen the Geneva Conventions agreed that it is "a little silly" to talk about interrogation techniques. Or, maybe the vice president thinks that the travesties of bin Laden, and Al Qaeda surpass those of other monsters of history, and exceed the horrors of that other world war half a century ago? What's more, to consider national, and international dialogue about methods used to obtain information from prisoners of war "silly," and irrelevant is to insult those who met in Geneva, the integrity of international law, the spirit of global cooperation, as well as the intelligence of the American people.

A week or so ago, general, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, suggested that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld takes his orders from "a higher source." For this, one can rest assured, future generations may remember the good general as Peter Pan. That said, in his recent memoirs, former German German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, writes of his meetings with the president that "Again and again in our private talks it became clear how God-fearing this President was and how he ruled by what he saw as a Higher Power...The problem begins when political discussions seem to result from a conversation with God." (Times of London)

It would appear, when Bush and Rumsfeld are on a conference call with that "Higher Power," Mr. Cheney must be in the woods working on his target practice. To his credit, the vice president isn't among those, in his administration, suggesting his actions are divinely inspired, and claiming they have the New Testament stamp of approval. One can think of little that is more "silly" than a wartime president's claim to be divinely inspired to torture, maim, rape, occupy, and plunder a sovereign nation with impunity, and without oversight; only "silly" isn't the right word, "criminal" is more like it.
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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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