Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's time to clean the House

I first published this piece on CommonDreams.org.

12/11/07 --Nancy Pelosi should resign as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Since she won’t, I hope the voters in her liberal California district throw her out next November.

Here are the facts as reported by The Washington Post (facts that Pelosi has not contested). In 2002, Nancy Pelosi was given a briefing that informed her that waterboarding – a form of torture applied, among others, by the Nazis – was being used, or at least about to be used, by the CIA. She raised not a peep.

The Post notes that waterboarding, an interrogation technique that uses simulated drowning, has officially been regarded as torture by the U.S. military since the Spanish-American War. The Post article further notes that while Pelosi “declined to comment directly … a congressional source familiar with Pelosi's position on the matter …acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.”

That's enough for me. I don’t want to hear the liberal equivocators, the ones saying, well, it was right after 9/11 when Americans were afraid -- the ones trying to draw distinctions between Pelosi’s acquiescence and Dick Cheney’s enthusiasm. When it comes to immoral actions, such distinctions just don’t wash. Those who stand by and acquiesce in the end are nearly as guilty as those who carry out the torture.

It is a crime in this country to have knowledge of a murder without reporting it. Plain and simple. It should be a crime in this country to have knowledge of torture without reporting it – in this case to the people who hired the Congress, the voting public.

Of course, in this era of unending fear and increasing secrecy, no one will push that argument. In fact, when the subject of torture surfaces on occasion, the president, with an assist from the press, usually puts it quickly to rest.

"Americans do not torture," W. says. And everyone goes back to sleep.

Sometimes the media barely wake up to begin with. The Washington Post story to me demonstrated an extraordinary degree of cynicism by the top-ranked Democrat, a leader who regularly complains about government secrecy in her role as opposition party leader. Yet this story has had little traction elsewhere in the traditional news media. Which leads me again to wonder: Who needs Nero's fiddle when we already dance daily around tales like Jennifer Love Hewitt’s hint of flab, oblivious to the corrosion of our democratic principles at a time of a war against “terror,” a war in other words without end?

Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of any war. The truth is too ugly to witness and so we hide it behind euphemism and platitude, inventing words such as “collateral damage” in place of accidental civilian deaths. We hide the truth by hiding the pictures of the dead, the maimed and the forgotten from the public. We hide the truth by giving glorious and high-minded reasons for killing in the first place.

Remember “Operation Iraqi Freedom?” Try talking of freedom to the millions of Iraqis who have fled their homes. Promote it to the relatives of the tens of thousands of civilians who have died, too. Then there are the U.S. statistics: nearly 4,000 soldiers and Marines dead, seven times more wounded and maimed, and, according to a special CBS report, a sharply escalating suicide rates among veterans. (That story, too, disappeared in the blink of an eye though based on a five-month investigation.)

These are all numbers we can count. What’s harder to measure after five plus years of war is the deep-seeded cynicism of our leaders and the ennui – the boredom -- that is rotting our culture from within.

We have – or at least we used to have – a Constitution governing the United States. We follow – or we used to follow – the Geneva Conventions, which set standards for treatment of prisoners of war. We have – or we used to have – the rule of law.

But we will continue to only if we insist that someone enforces those laws – that we live in a government of debate, not silent deceit, that politicians of both parties serve guiding principles greater than those of accumulating power and getting re-elected. Whatever their political stripe, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green, truly patriotic Americans need to stand up, to speak out, to stick by the principles under which this country was founded, and to throw the bums leading both parties out. Then, at last, our drift toward a totalitarian state will stop.

Justice and the primacy of just law will be the basis of our democracy only for as long as we, the people, demand that they be. They are not immutable, not rights that can be sustained forever if we choose to pull the covers over our heads and quake while bullies or tag-alongs of all
ideological stripe tear apart the bulwark of our system of government.

They are rights that we must cling to tightly – and not leave for safekeeping to those, like Nancy Pelosi, who talk of their value and then chose selectively to disregard them.

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