Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Decider becomes the Definer

Q: If we called a tail a "leg", how many legs would a horse have?
A: Four.

It's a tricky question, because it can sometimes be difficult to remember that things are what they are, regardless of what we call them.

And torture is torture regardless of what the American President wants to call it--a point missed by the recent anti-terror legislation:
As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and to promulgate higher standards and administrative regulations for violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
At times like this, when the American government has effectively legalized torture, it's important to find reason to laugh. I think the right note of absurdity can be found by comparing the legislation with Bush's attempt to rationalize it a couple of weeks ago:
This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.
Bush vigorously protests that he doesn't have the foggiest clue as to what the Conventions might mean--and then the Senate goes and gives him the job of interpreting the damn thing. It's like something straight out of an episode of Seinfeld.

But comedy tends to walk hand in hand with tragedy. Consider how Bush continued his rationalizing:
And what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal.
But this new law is only as clear as Bush's own understanding of what might count as "outrages upon human dignity"--a matter which he professes to find utterly opaque and obscure. Where does this leave America's torturers? Imagine the plight of those poor souls who would practice sadism on behalf of the American people: the President had promised them peace of mind, but, alas, those hopes have now been cruelly dashed.

No comments: