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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician



All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pining for the blowjob dodge

Do you remember a few years back, the howling and hand-wringing that accompanied Bill Clinton's evasive phraseology, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”?

Bill had gotten legal advice that “sexual relations” meant intercourse, so could later claim that he hadn't lied about only getting a blowjob.

They caught him, a master communicator, the man who had frustratingly out-messaged them for years, out-communicating himself. He lied, whether the legal advice would stand or not. (It didn't.) They pounced.

There was so much posturing about what a weak, morally bankrupt leader would use narrow, legalistic dodges to avoid the substance of the truth. There was even more posturing about plain talk, and about restoring dignity to the White House.

I've thought of the blowjob deception frequently over the last six years. Not because I regard Clinton as a dick for thinking with his pecker (of course he was), and not because I think he was an idiot to let down his family and the nation by lying about it (of course he was). No, I've thought about the blowjob deception because I yearn for a time when that seemed important, and for a time when Republicans thought narrow, legalistic dodges were for un-manly, slippery liberals.

Perhaps you've heard President Bush asserting that he does not condone torture, and that the United States acts in accordance with the law. Nevermind that his administration has re-interpreted both domestic statutes and international treaties to allow for treatment of prisoners unacceptable to previous administrations (including his father's). Nevermind that we have set up a chain of CIA prisons abroad to allow the type of interrogation expressly prohibited in the United States. Nevermind that his Vice President, representing the White House, has actively opposed legislation to ban torture. Nevermind the bald hypocrisy nestled in a fog of “Who, me?” rhetoric.

Let's focus for a moment on what America means. That could be a long essay, so, for the sake of brevity, let's stipulate the ideals ensconced in the Pledge of Allegiance. That should be acceptable to the rightward leaning; the American right has been keen on the Pledge for a long time. They focus on the “under God” part. Just now, however, I'm thinking of the last line, which reads “With liberty and justice for all.”

I think this encapsulates what many of us have in mind when we think about the ideal of American political values. We could equally take something from the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. To my mind, however, both of those documents are just longer, eloquent expositions on the same theme expressed in that one line of the Pledge. When we talk about exporting freedom and democracy – the current Administration's cause celebre – I assume, similarly, we are saying the entire world should share in the bounties of liberty and justice.

So, I'm not being ironic when I say that I'm confused by the United States Government's view of when it is and isn't acceptable to inflict “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on prisoners. Here it is, in short: the various laws and treaties covering this sort of thing -- from the United States Constitution to the US-ratified Convention Against Torture -- don't apply to foreign detainees. In other words, you can't do it in the United States, and certainly not to US citizens. You can, however, do it to foreigners on foreign soil: Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, say, or at a CIA “black site” prison.

It is okay to do it to them. It is not okay to do it to us.

Here's the source of my confusion: How can we even pretend to be exporting freedom and justice when our policy is to extend neither one to non-Americans? Us: we get freedom and justice. Them: they get as much as we feel like giving them. And sometimes that's not so much.

This can only go one of two ways. Either we call this the bullshit it is, and take torture back out of our repertoire, or we can watch as the us/them line comes closer and closer to us. This administration, and the neo-conservative right, more broadly, is fond of accusing those who discredit it of being “with the terrorists,” or of “hating America”. You're either with us, or you're one of them.

Remember: It's okay to do it to “them”.

I vividly recall us all, right and left together, agreeing Saddam was evil. One of our favorite, most concrete proof points: he tortured his enemies.

As John McCain says, “It's not about who they are. It's about who we are.” So, this is about whether we choose to be like Saddam or different from him. He used torture as a tactic, and we vilified him for it. I think we were right.

To close, here's a small thought experiment. It's World War II. The Nazis are found out to be torturing and occasionally killing Jews. They demonstrate, however, that they are only doing it to non-Germans, and only in other countries. How much does that raise the morality of their actions?

None at all?

Thought so.

Hey, George: What's the legal wangle on “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?


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For deeper analysis, see the article "Who They Are", from last Friday's Slate.


Comments on "Pining for the blowjob dodge"

 

Anonymous Larry Kirby said ... (7:04 PM) : 

Let's look in another direction. "Libery and justice for all" should apply to same-sex marriage. To prohibit it would deny Liberty anf justice to some full-fledged tax-paying citizens. Perhape the pledge should be changed to "Liberty and justce for some."

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:59 PM) : 

Eh... As far as Larry's comment, Liberty and Justice don't mean "equality for all." And as far as I know, no one is prohibiting (i.e., infringing upon the liberty of) people desiring same-sex relationships.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:20 AM) : 

.....BUT!!!!! we are in a way prohibiting them, because of the fact that we do not acknowledge their union in a court of law, we deny many same-sex couples the right to adopt based solely on the fact that they are a same-sex couple, while we allow single parents to adopt. Isn't a two-parent household considered more stable than a single-parent one? Or does that change when both parents happen to have the same genitalia? How can we, as a society, say we are being just when we are discriminating based on gender, saying that two men or two women are not fit to have a child together, but one woman working three jobs is?

 

Blogger BJ Aberle said ... (2:50 PM) : 

I think there is one flaw in your thinking though. And I don't expect you to see it my way. The flaw is, you don't see these other countries and terrorists as engaging in evil practices. Until you do you will always have sypmathy towards thoughs who would destroy us. And as far as the "love thy neighbor" bit. What they would do unto us is kill in brutal maniacal ways we probably can't even imagine. So do we just sit here and wait for that? I guess that's your perogative. And you make my case by your last thought experiment. You don't see the Nazi's as evil. You are equating them with the United States. If you think that they are one and the same then you , I fear, are misinformed.

 

Blogger Houston said ... (9:35 PM) : 

Au contraire, Mr Aberle. I do see it your way. They are evil. My very point is that by behaving as they do, we lower ourselves to their evil. The Nazis were evil. If we do as they did, are we not also?

You call "Love thy neighbor" a "bit". I call it Christ's command to those who would call themselves Christians. And note that he didn't say "Love thy neighbor as they would love you." He said "Love thy neighbor as thyself." That "they" would do evil to us doesn't strike me as a good reason to follow their example.

As for flawed thinking, you imply that the alternative to using torture is "to just sit here and wait". I can think of other courses of action, and so could every administration in recent history save the current one.

 

Blogger BJ Aberle said ... (10:44 PM) : 

Ok....I see your point. I think that Christians are not called to be punching bags either. What is loving thy neighbor? Invading a country and eliminating the evil oppressor dictator? The people who have been liberated and freed would see that as loving and compassionate. Wouldn't torturing someone to get information to possibly save the life of your neighbor, “loving your neighbor?” It’s a tough call. I don't think we are following the terrorists example. Their example is to indiscriminately kill innocent people. We do not do that. Do we? What course of action would you like to see applied instead of torture. What do we hold over the head over the terrorists if they know that life as a prisoner will be a cakewalk? It’s like the kids at my wife’s school. They don’t fear the dean so discipline is nonexistent. Please, if you don’t mind, tell me about the alternatives. Thanks for your time.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:47 AM) : 

Dear Mr Aberle
I suppose innocent people that we have killed should find peace in that we do not kill them indiscrimately. I feel no peace for all the innocent lives lost because we as Americans have created turmoil in Iraq. They are dead. Dead is dead. Whether they were killed by Saddam or us makes no difference - don't you see. There was nothing wrong with making Iraq 'free' but freedom has to happen from the inside, not from without. Americans cannot buy Iraq's freedom with our guns and blood. I do not object to war - I do object to illegal and immoral war.

I have been thinking for a while now about America not extending "liberty and justice for all" to everyone in the world and only treating others with justice and fairness if they are "Americans", so thank you very much for the original post - it helped me organize my own thoughts better. Not treating others with love and making excuses why we shouldn't is very short-sighted. No one wants to be a punching bag but that is not what loving others is about. Sometimes we will be beat down but that is a test to our ability to love. It is one thing to follow this nation's and the world's laws and prosecute a criminal - it is another thing entirely to initiate an immoral and illegal war.

The far right conservatives are outside of Christian values and objective people can see that for what it is. We are supposed to be a Christian nation that has a separate church and state that embraces others differences and is tolerant but America is much less than that ideal in the eyes of the world. We as a society seem to be afraid and willing to compromise our values. This period is a test that I am uncertain that we will pass but I still have hope. The far right conservatives are morally bankrupt. The current administration does evil and spins and lies to cover up its actions. I do not believe that it has been their intention to do evil, but our government has. Our values are out of whack. Impeaching for a blowjob versus no response to an illegal war and a policy of aggressive military action make me so very confused about where people's minds are. To all those out there that thought that Clinton's lies about an extramarital affair were more evil than the current administration's lies than you are twisted. The ends does not justify the means in this war. The people who committed the crimes of 911 are criminals and we are as Americans negligent for allowing this nation to continue on the path it is on. I am losing faith in America, but not in Americans to do what is morally right in the world. I know we don't agree on what is morally right so perhaps we should just concentrate on loving others be they American or not. Use the laws to catch and prosecute criminals with regards to terrorists, no more offensive illegal wars. Impeach presidents and administartions for evil acts that lead to innocent deaths, don't persecute them for misdemeanors. I remember when a blowjob was something to consume our government's passion to set things right.

 

Blogger BJ Aberle said ... (3:26 AM) : 

Yes we will probably not see eye to eye on this. I thank you for your polite and civil discourse. I do not think the 911 terrorists are criminals. That would be too kind of a word and an inappropriate word. I don't know....there are no easy answers to this. I do know that this administration is damned if they do and damned if they don't. I would rather be part of the do and fail than do nothing and die. I totally agree with the notion that Iraqi freedom has to come from within. But could this war be the thing that allows this to happen. It definitely could not have with out us. But what about torture? What are the alternatives? I really want to know what you think about alternatives to torture. Thanks.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:53 AM) : 

Dear Mr Aberle
Damned if you do and don't doesn't apply to torture and illegal wars. At the very least I think reasonable people should be able to agree on what is right and wrong and the US is a nation with laws and those can help guide us as well. The current administration with regards to torture may be following US laws within the US but it is also ignoring the spirit of our laws.

My argument remains that we should apply the same freedom of life, fairness and justice to all regardless of whether you are an American or not, on American soil or not. That means no torture. When I experienced the events of 911 I thought if torture could have prevented that event than it would be worth it. That was my grief and anger that led me to believe that. Surely, trading one person's discomfort or life to save thousands would have been just. Where does it stop though. What if the first person doesn't know enough. How many people lives can I trade for anothers. What if we have tortured innocents. How many innocents is acceptable. What does this activity do to us as a nation. We already value human life so little unless he or she is one of ours. When do we become no different than the ones we hate. I googled "alternatives to torture" and found this written by a person going by The Raven -

"Remember when the Israelis used to torture Palestinian captives? Remember when the Brits used to torture IRA prisoners? The soldiers and security agencies on both sides stopped because after years of engaging in the practice, they came to identical realizations:

1. There is almost never a “ticking time bomb.” The imagined justification of holding a man who knows where an explosive is planted but refuses to divulge its location just doesn’t happen very often.

2. Once in a blue moon, you might get the guy in point 1 above. So you torture him, chopping off his fingers, blowtorching his face, whatever it takes to make him talk. Eventually, you start torturing his family members, his wife, his sister, his friends, the people who live across the street. Torture tends to relax its bounds and the “ticking time bomb” justification gives way to general intelligence gathering.

3. Per the guy in the point 2 above, it turns out that when you apply enough pain on somebody, they start talking. If they don’t know anything, they talk anyway. It’s not only the Fruit of the Poisoned Tree, but the tree itself disappears and all you have left is a person babbling whatever he thinks will make the torture stop - so you get bad intel.

4. As verified in reports by the NYT, WashPost, et al., as soon as we put away the sand-filled socks at Gitmo, and as soon as we tried the “good cop” approach, we got more intel and better intel. This gibes with coverage at the New York Review (see “The Torturers”) in which expert interrogators from around the world, master police detectives, all the big names in the field were queried and all agreed that in just about every case imaginable, a glass of water and a cigarette and a reasonable questioner produce solid intel. The U.S. army reported that once we stopped Rumsfeld’s harsh measures we began to get quality information.

That’s all there is to it. Torture isn’t just stupid and a PR nightmare, but it doesn’t even work. We know enough about psychology and behavior to move beyond pliers and bamboo shoots. But what has happened in our name and with our tax dollars is the most shameful thing I’ve ever witnessed as an American. Ever. I’ve seen videotapes of battlefield interrogations in Vietnam, and those were pretty harsh, but they were NOT institutionalized and authorized and prescribed by our DoD. How we’re going to reclaim our former moral high ground is a good question, because at the moment, thanks to Bush we’ve just become the new KGB."

 

Blogger BJ Aberle said ... (3:59 PM) : 

Please know that I don't endorse torture. I am all for the alternatives. You are right when you say "when does it stop?" I would submit to you though that "most," not all, terrorists who we capture are not innocent. Does that mean it's ok to torture? No, but I feel there needs to be fear in the minds of the terrorists if they were to be captured by the USA. Damned if you do does apply because this is not an illegal war. All I hear is "Bush lied people died" and every other thing. If this is such an illegal war then why hasn't he been impeached? Why hasn't the opposition been able to make a solid case? You can point me to every blog and news article that supports your assertion and I can do the same for my point of view. I know this will send waves of laughter through those who read what I am about to say. 100 years from now our great grand children (given the world is still around) will look back to the events of today and say one of two things. 1) What were they thinking or 2) action was taken when action was needed and now people who once were oppressed are now free. If it's #2 then George W. Bush will be remembered as one of the greatest presidents. If all you see is what’s going on “here and now” and an "illegal war" then of course it will be hard to see it otherwise.

 

Anonymous Anonymous Pedantic Proofreader said ... (11:27 AM) : 

The link to Slate doesn't work. Tut, tut, Monsieur H.

Also Larry Kirby made two spelling mistakes. Tut, tut, to you too, Mister Kirby.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:08 PM) : 

If it's #2 then George W. Bush will be remembered as one of the greatest presidents. If all you see is what’s going on “here and now” and an "illegal war" then of course it will be hard to see it otherwise.

If the current administration continues to lie it's way into the history books, in 100 years maybe GWB will be remembered as something good.

If not, he will go down as what he really is: a cunning Harvard MBA that's is getting friends very rich at the expense of everything we hold dear: liberty, freedom, human rights, environment, etc.

By the way, did anyone serious thought that Saddam was a real military threat for the USA?

 

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