Torture and Bush's Word Games


Socrates was right in this: most of any argument depends on defining your terms. Perhaps he, like Nostradamus, was engaging in prophecy, foreseeing the inanity of the definitions of the Bush Administration potentially leading to the end of the world.

There are battles happening everywhere these days about such difficult and obscure issues as how to define 'torture,' from Washington, DC to Teheran to Guadalajara. Is torture actually torture, or is it only 'mistreatment?' Are 'we' not the kind of people who do what US soldiers and 'intelligence' operatives have been photographed doing, or do 'we' actually have some 'responsibility?' Is Donald Rumsfeld, an even more virulent form of 'The Donald' than the Trump-meister, a Secretary of 'Defense,' or is he really an offense against nature, morality, simple humanity and even common sense?
It is fascinating to watch the fancy dance steps these apologists for torture go through to avoid saying what is obvious on the face of it. The photos from Abu Ghraib gain some of their power from the same things that gave the Rodney King video power – they give the lie to all the verbiage that officials use to distance themselves from reality and from responsibility for what they do and what those they supervise and order around do. Before the photos, there were reports of the torture and abuse, but since they were only words, Rumsfeld, Bush and others were able to use just words to dismiss those reports.

These battles over definitions are not abstract, not meaningless. They are a battle to make words mean something real, to make the way we discuss things approach closer to what actually happens. The battle is not about whether or not Rumsfeld should have known that there were photos out there that could 'damage our reputation,' the battle is about the reality that that bad reputation is based on. When the Bush administration abrogates the ABM Treaty, removes the US from the Kyoto Accords, declares that US treatment of prisoners isn’t subject to the Geneva Conventions and demands that the US be exempt from international courts of law, when Bush made clear that he would order an invasion of Iraq no matter what the UN did, they set the stage for the abuses. It has now come out that Rumsfeld explicitly signed off on the not-dissimilar methods used in the US prisoner camp at Guantanamo Bay. While it is noted that one of the soldiers accused of 'mistreatment of prisoners' was a prison guard in civilian life, the question isn’t often asked what this says about what methods he engaged in to 'enforce discipline and gather information' on his regular job.

The battle is not just about words but about reality, about what we can see with our own eyes. We can’t let the Bush administration and its apologists get away with the magic act of getting us to disbelieve our own moral sense of what is right and what is wrong. We can’t let them get away with using slippery spin words to escape their responsibility for these inhuman actions.

It is becoming clearer every day that Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, et al. are not just thieves, conspiring to steal the 2004 elections, they are not just liars, denying their active planning for an invasion while denying it in public and making up reasons to sell their invasion of Iraq which can pass the 'bullshit' test. They are not just right-wing jerks of the kind we’ve seen many times before. They are war criminals, and no amount of spin can hide the facts. The battle, the debate, is not about how many photos should be published in the newspapers or shown on TV, the debate is about the policies themselves, the 'leaders' themselves, the decisions they made, the rationalizations they created, and the lies they told and are still telling. The Iraqi prisoners deserved better treatment, the U.S. public deserves truth, and Bush deserves to be thrown out, impeached out, and elected out of office.

Words and their definitions are important, and the slippery language that Rumsfeld uses is more evidence of his disrespect for truth. Insisting that words mean what we know them to mean is part of our battle for justice, peace and real compassion.

--Marc Brodine can be reached at

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