Friday, September 22, 2006

Torture's Long Shadow

Washington Post

Torture's Long Shadow

By Vladimir Bukovsky

Sunday, December 18, 2005; Page B01


One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."

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This joke, whispered among those who trusted each other when I was a kid in Moscow in the 1950s, is perhaps the best contribution I can make to the current argument in Washington about legislation banning torture and inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists captured abroad. Now that President Bush has made a public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain's amendment, it would seem that the debate is ending. But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.

Even talking about the possibility of using CID treatment sends wrong signals and encourages base instincts in those who should be consistently delivered from temptation by their superiors. As someone who has been on the receiving end of the "treatment" under discussion, let me tell you that trying to make a distinction between torture and CID techniques is ridiculous. Long gone are the days when a torturer needed the nasty-looking tools displayed in the Tower of London. A simple prison bed is deadly if you remove the mattress and force a prisoner to sleep on the iron frame night after night after night. Or how about the "Chekist's handshake" so widely practiced under Stalin -- a firm squeeze of the victim's palm with a simple pencil inserted between his fingers? Very convenient, very simple. And how would you define leaving 2,000 inmates of a labor camp without dental service for months on end? Is it CID not to treat an excruciatingly painful toothache, or is it torture?

Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s. The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.

I know from my own experience that interrogation is an intensely personal confrontation, a duel of wills. It is not about revealing some secrets or making confessions, it is about self-respect and human dignity. If I break, I will not be able to look into a mirror. But if I don't, my interrogator will suffer equally. Just try to control your emotions in the heat of that battle. This is precisely why torture occurs even when it is explicitly forbidden. Now, who is going to guarantee that even the most exact definition of CID is observed under such circumstances?

But if we cannot guarantee this, then how can you force your officers and your young people in the CIA to commit acts that will scar them forever? For scarred they will be, take my word for it.

In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.

Today, when the White House lawyers seem preoccupied with contriving a way to stem the flow of possible lawsuits from former detainees, I strongly recommend that they think about another flood of suits, from the men and women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be engaged in CID practices. Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.

If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which includes CID, has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering. No country needs to invent how to "legalize" torture; the problem is rather how to stop it from happening. If it isn't stopped, torture will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East. And if you cynically outsource torture to contractors and foreign agents, how can you possibly be surprised if an 18-year-old in the Middle East casts a jaundiced eye toward your reform efforts there?

Finally, think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world, particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia, and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend itself without resorting to torture. . . . "

Off we go, back to the caves.

Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities, is the author of several books, including "To Build a Castle" and "Judgment in Moscow." Now 63, he has lived primarily in Cambridge, England, since 1976.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Hat tip: Sullivan

TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon

America´s New War Is With Faceless Enemy Who Attacks Unarmed and Innocent
President Seeks To Clarify Vagaries of 1950 Language

September 18, 2006 - Washington, DC -- The Traditional Values Coalition asked members of Congress to support President Bush's reform of prisoner treatment policies because "this is a war unlike any other we have fought -- the enemy is faceless and deliberately attacks the innocent."

TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon said American military and intelligence experts are hampered by a vague "outrages upon personal dignity" statement in Article Three of the Geneva Convention of 1950.

"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists. Civil suits against our military personnel are tying their hands as they try to get vital information which will save the lives of our young military people and the innocent."

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post -World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits.

"And since this debate is, at its very core, about preserving the traditional value of prosecuting injustice and protecting the innocent, TVC will score this vote in both the House and the Senate. We encourage all of our supporters and affiliated churches to contact their elected representatives and let them know we support President Bush's efforts to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees in order to provide greater protection for our troops and the innocent."

Secret Prisons

If the process we use to interrogate "terrorists" is so moral, upstanding, right and necessary, why do we require secret prisons in which to carry them out?

If these acts have the full support of the American people and are indeed necessary, why aren't these acts carried out in the light of day?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We Must Take the High Road

One thing I think we as a nation need to get over is the "horror" we experience with seeing civilians blown up by "terrorists".

If I were to be attacked by someone in a tank, I'm not going to run headlong into them and start beating it with a sledgehammer. It'd be useless. What I would do instead is hide until the occupants either left or got tired and exited for a smoke. Then attack.

My point is that in war you don't attack your opponent's strengths. You attack their weaknesses.

To win a war, you must take away your opposition's *will* to fight.

No nation or group has the power to take on the US directly. Almost by definition, any organization that wishes to oppose the US militarily will be forced to use guerilla methods if any degree of success is to be had.

Attacking civilians is a method for taking away the enemy's *will* to fight. I don't condone the behavior, but that's the way it is.

I suggest we get away from the politically-induced hystrionics of "Terrorism" and come together to figure out a way to contain or eliminate this enemy. Getting outraged over some action or another only saps our own will to fight. Better to ignore it and attack the enemy to the best of our abilities. To jump up and down in indignant outrage is about as useful as the British's outrage that our revolutionary fighters refused to line up in rows and "fight" in the open fields.

To get back to the subject at hand, I doubt that torture will affect the enemy at all. It will, however, completely destroy both our own integrity and any support we have left with any remaining allies.

To win, we have to show the world that we offer a better alternative.
Take away their will to fight our way of life.

We have to show the world that our Democracy has the strength to weather these affronts. Not to slide back into barbarism the second we lose a couple of buildings. We can't give away the constitution because a couple of planes hit our country.

We must show them that our way is better.

If *I* had the choice between blowing myself up and being tortured for years in some hole, I know which one I'd chose.

The Importance of Good Torture

Before we dismiss torture out of hand, we should examine how torture has been used in the past and how it may once again be an Agent of Good that quickly leads us to Truth.

From the great 19th century scribe Charles Mackay. (Comments in brackets '[]' are my own)

[ Background of the Terror ]

Europe, for a period of two centuries and a half, brooded upon the idea, not only that parted spirits walked the earth to meddle in the affairs of men, but that men had power to summon evil spirits to their aid to work woe upon their fellows. An epidemic terror seized upon the nations; no man thought himself secure, either in his person or possessions, from the machinations of the devil and his agents.

Every calamity that befell him, he attributed to a witch. If a storm arose and blew down his barn, it was witchcraft; if his cattle died of a murrain-if disease fastened upon his limbs, or death entered suddenly, and snatched a beloved face from his hearth—they were not visitations of Providence, but the works of some neighbouring hag, whose wretchedness or insanity caused the ignorant to raise their finger, and point at her as a witch. The word was upon everybody's tongue—France, ItaLy, Germany, England, Scotland, and the far North, successively ran mad upon this subject, and for a long series of years, furnished their tribunals with so many trials for witchcraft that other crimes were seldom or never spoken of.

Thousands upon thousands of unhappy persons fell victims to this cruel and absurd delusion. In many cities of Germany, as will be shown more fully in its due place hereafter, the average number of executions for this pretended crime, was six hundred annually, or two every day, if we leave out the Sundays, when, it is to be supposed, that even this madness refrained from its work.

A misunderstanding of the famous text of the Mosaic law, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," no doubt led many conscientious men astray, whose superstition, warm enough before, wanted but a little corroboration to blaze out with desolating fury. ... From the best authorities, it appears that the Hebrew word, which has been rendered, venefica, and witch, means a poisoner and divineress—a dabbler in spells, or fortune-teller. The modern witch was a very different character, and joined to her pretended power of foretelling future events that of working evil upon the life, limbs, and possessions of mankind.

[The State Declares War]
The early annals of France abound with stories of supposed sorcery, but it was not until the time of Charlemagne that the crime acquired any great importance. "This monarch," says M. Jules Garinet, 88* "had several times given orders that all necromancers, astrologers, and witches should be driven from his states; but as the number of criminals augmented daily, he found it necessary at last to resort to severer measures. In consequence, he published several edicts, which may be found at length in the Capitulaire de Baluse.

By these, every sort of magic, enchantment, and witchcraft was forbidden; and the punishment of death decreed against those who in any way evoked the devil˜compounded love-philters˜afflicted either man or woman with barrenness˜troubled the atmosphere˜excited tempests˜destroyed the fruits of the earth˜dried up the milk of cows, or tormented their fellow-creatures with sores and diseases. All persons found guilty of exercising these execrable arts, were to be executed immediately upon conviction, that the earth might be rid of the burthen and curse of their presence; and those even who consulted them might also be punished with death.

[ Early Successes ]
After this time, prosecutions for witchcraft are continually mentioned, especially by the French historians. It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances, in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious, must be familiar to every reader.

The extermination of the Stedinger, in 1244; of the Templars, from 1317 to 1323; the execution of Joan of Arc, in 1439; and the unhappy scenes of Arras, in 1469; are the most prominent. The first of these is perhaps the least known, but is not among the least remarkable. The following account, from Dr. Kortum's interesting history90* of the republican confederacies of the Middle Ages, will show the horrible convenience of imputations of witchcraft, when royal or priestly wolves wanted a pretext for a quarrel with the sheep.

[ The Crimes]
Just as absurd and effectual was the charge brought against the Templars in 1307, when they had rendered themselves obnoxious to the potentates and prelacy of Christendom. Their wealth, their power, their pride, and their insolence had raised up enemies on every side; and every sort of accusation was made against them, but failed to work their overthrow, until the terrible cry of witchcraft was let loose upon them. This effected its object, and the Templars were extirpated.

They were accused of having sold their souls to the devil, and of celebrating all the infernal mysteries of the witches' Sabbath. It was pretended that, when they admitted a novice into their order, they forced him to renounce his salvation and curse Jesus Christ; that they then made him submit to many unholy and disgusting ceremonies, and forced him to kiss the Superior on the cheek, the navel, and the breech; and spit three times upon a crucifix. That all the members were forbidden to have connexion with women, but might give themselves up without restraint to every species of unmentionable debauchery. ...

[ Torture Reveals their True Allegiance]
Philip IV, who, to exercise his own implacable hatred, invented, in all probability, the greater part of these charges, issued orders for the immediate arrest of all the Templars in his dominions. The pope afterwards took up the cause with almost as much fervour as the King of France; and in every part of Europe, the Templars were thrown into prison and their goods and estates confiscated. Hundreds of them, when put to the rack, confessed even the most preposterous of the charges against them, and by so doing, increased the popular clamour and the hopes of their enemies. It is true that, when removed from the rack, they denied all they had previously confessed; but this circumstance only increased the outcry, and was numbered as an additional crime against them. They were considered in a worse light than before, and condemned forthwith to the flames, as relapsed heretics. Fifty-nine of these unfortunate victims were all burned together by a slow fire in a field in the suburbs of Paris, protesting to the very last moment of their lives, their innocence of the crimes imputed to them, and refusing to accept of pardon upon condition of acknowledging themselves guilty. Similar scenes were enacted in the provinces; and for four years, hardly a month passed without witnessing the execution of one or more of these unhappy men.


As the fear of witchcraft increased, the Catholic clergy strove to fix the imputation of it upon those religious sects, the pioneers of the Reformation, who began about this time to be formidable to the Church of Rome. If a charge of heresy could not ensure their destruction, that of sorcery and witchcraft never failed. In the year 1459, a devoted congregation of the Waldenses, at Arras, who used to repair at night to worship God in their own manner in solitary places, fell victims to an accusation of sorcery.


[ The Rack Reveals All ]
The rack, that convenient instrument for making the accused confess anything, was of course put in requisition. Monstrelet, in his Chronicle, says that they were tortured until some of them admitted the truth of the whole accusations, and said besides, that they had seen and recognized, in their nocturnal assemblies, many persons of rank; many prelates, seigneurs, governors of bailliages, and mayors of cities, being such names as the examiners had themselves suggested to the victims. Several who had been thus informed against, were thrown into prison, and so horribly tortured, that reason fled, and, in their ravings of pain, they also confessed their midnight meetings with the devil, and the oaths they had taken to serve him.

Upon these confessions judgment was pronounced: the poor old women, as usual in such cases, were hanged and burned in the market-place; the more wealthy delinquents were allowed to escape, upon payment of large sums. It was soon after universally recognized that these trials had been conducted in the most odious manner, and that the judges had motives of private vengeance against many of the more influential persons who had been implicated. The Parliament of Paris afterwards declared the sentence illegal, and the judges iniquitous; but its arrêt was too late to be of service even to those who had paid the fine, or to punish the authorities who had misconducted themselves; for it was not delivered until thirty-two years after the executions had taken place.


[ The Outsourcing of Interrogation ]
It was now that the Witch Mania, properly so called, may be said to have fairly commenced. Immediately a class of men sprang up in Europe, who made it the sole business of their lives to discover and burn the witches. Sprenger, in Germany, was the most celebrated of these national scourges. In his notorious work, the Malleus Maleficarum, he laid down a regular form of trial, and appointed a course of examination by which the inquisitors in other countries might best discover the guilty.


Straightway the inquisitors set to work; Cumarius, in Italy, burned forty-one poor women in one province alone, and Sprenger, in Germany, burned a number which can never be ascertained correctly, but which, it is agreed on all hands, amounted to more than five hundred in a year. The great resemblance between the confessions of the unhappy victims was regarded as a new proof of the existence of the crime. But this is not astonishing.

The same questions from the Malleus Maleficarum, were put to them all, and torture never failed to educe the answer required by the inquisitor. Numbers of people whose imaginations were filled with these horrors, went further in the way of confession than even their tormenters anticipated, in the hope that they would thereby be saved from the rack, and put out of their misery at once. Some confessed that they had had children by the devil; but no one, who had ever been a mother, gave utterance to such a frantic imagining, even in the extremity of her anguish. The childless only confessed it, and were burned instanter as unworthy to live.

[ Renewal of the Zeal ]
For fear the zeal of the enemies of Satan should cool, successive Popes appointed new commissions. One was appointed by Alexander VI, in 1494; another by Leo X, in 1521, and a third by Adrian VI, in 1522. They were all armed with the same powers to hunt out and destroy, and executed their fearful functions but too rigidly. In Geneva alone five hundred persons were burned in the years 1515 and 1516, under the title of Protestant witches. It would appear that their chief crime was heresy, and their witchcraft merely an aggravation. Bartolomeo de Spina has a list still more fearful. He informs us that, in the year 1524, no less than a thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft in the district of Como, and that for several years afterwards the average number of victims exceeded a hundred annually. One inquisitor, Remigius, took great credit to himself for having, during fifteen years, convicted and burned nine hundred.


Gilles Garnier was put to the rack, after fifty witnesses had deposed against him: he confessed everything that was laid to his charge. He was, thereupon, brought back into the presence of his judges, when Dr. Camus, in the name of the Parliament of Dole, pronounced the following sentence:—

"Seeing that Gilles Garnier has, by the testimony of credible witnesses, and by his own spontaneous confession, been proved guilty of the abominable crimes of lycanthropy and witchcraft, this court condemns him, the said Gilles, to be this day taken in a cart from this spot to the place of execution, accompanied by the executioner (maître executeur de la haute justice), where he, by the said executioner, shall be tied to a stake and burned alive, and that his ashes be then scattered to the winds. The Court further condemns him, the said Gilles, to the costs of this prosecution."

The ninth Parliament of Queen Mary passed an act in 1563, which decreed the punishment of death against witches and consulters with witches, and immediately the whole bulk of the people were smitten with an epidemic fear of the devil and his mortal agents. Persons in the highest ranks of life shared and encouraged the delusion of the vulgar. Many were themselves accused of witchcraft; and noble ladies were shown to have dabbled in mystic arts, and proved to the world that, if they were not witches, it was not for want of the will.


[ It is not Easy to Locate the Guilty ]
Gellie Duncan, the prime witch in these proceedings, ...neither old nor ugly (as witches usually were), but young and good-looking, her neighbours, from some suspicious parts of her behaviour, had long considered her a witch. She had, it appears, some pretensions to the healing art. ... In order to discover the truth, he put her to the torture; but she obstinately refused to confess that she had dealings with the devil. It was the popular belief that no witch would confess as long as the mark which Satan had put upon her remained undiscovered upon her body. Somebody present reminded the torturing Bailie of this fact, and on examination, the devil's mark was found upon the throat of poor Gellie.

She was put to the torture again, and her fortitude giving way under the extremity of her anguish, she confessed that she was indeed a witch—that she had sold her soul to the devil, and effected all her cures by his aid. This was something new in the witch creed, according to which, the devil delighted more in laying diseases on, than in taking them off; but Gellie Duncan fared no better on that account. The torture was still applied, until she had named all her accomplices, among whom were one Cunningham, a reputed wizard, known by the name of Dr. Fian, a grave and matron-like witch, named Agnes Sampson, Euphemia Macalzean, the daughter of Lord Cliftonhall, already mentioned, and nearly forty other persons, some of whom were the wives of respectable individuals in the city of Edinburgh.


[ Steps that Must be Taken ]
Dr. Fian, or rather Cunningham, a petty schoolmaster at Tranent, was put to the torture among the rest. He was a man who had led an infamous life, was a compounder of and dealer in poisons, and a pretender to magic. Though not guilty of the preposterous crimes laid to his charge, there is no doubt that he was a sorcerer in will, though not in deed, and that he deserved all the misery he endured. When put on the rack, he would confess nothing, and held out so long unmoved, that the severe torture of the boots was resolved upon. He endured this till exhausted nature could bear no longer, when Insensibility kindly stepped in to his aid. When it was seen that he was utterly powerless, and that his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, he was released. Restoratives were administered; and during the first faint gleam of returning consciousness, he was prevailed upon to sign, ere he well knew what he was about, a full confession, in strict accordance with those of Gellie Duncan and Agnes Sampson.

He was then remanded to his prison, from which, after two days, he managed, somehow or other, to escape. He was soon recaptured, and brought before the Court of Justiciary, James himself being present. Fian now denied all the circumstances of the written confession which he had signed; whereupon the King, enraged at his "stubborn wilfulness," ordered him once more to the torture. His finger nails were riven out with pincers, and long needles thrust up to the eye into the quick; but still he did not wince. He was then consigned again to the boots, in which, to quote a pamphlet published at the time,94* he continued "so long, and abode so many blows in them, that his legs were crushed and beaten together as small as might be, and the bones and flesh so bruised, that the blood and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable for ever."


[ The Thoroughness of Evidence ]
So strong was the popular feeling, that no one once accused of witchcraft was acquitted; at least, acquittals did not average one in a hundred trials. Witch-finding, or witch-pricking became a trade, and a set of mercenary vagabonds roamed about the country, provided with long pins to run into the flesh of supposed criminals.

It was no unusual thing then, nor is it now, that in aged persons there should be some spot on the body totally devoid of feeling. It was the object of the witchpricker to discover this spot, and the unhappy wight who did not bleed when pricked upon it, was doomed to the death. If not immediately cast into prison, her life was rendered miserable by the persecution of her neighbours.

It is recorded of many poor women, that the annoyances they endured in this way were so excessive, that they preferred death. Sir George Mackenzie, the Lord Advocate, at the time when witch-trials were so frequent, and himself a devout believer in the crime, relates, in his "Criminal Law," first published in 1688, some remarkable instances of it. He says, "I went, when I was a justice-depute, to examine some women who had confessed judicially: and one of them, who was a silly creature, told me, under secrecy, that she had not confessed because she was guilty, but being a poor creature who wrought for her meat, and being defamed for a witch, she knew she should starve; for no person thereafter would either give her meat or lodging, and that all men would beat her and set dogs at her; and that, therefore, she desired to be out of the world; whereupon she wept most bitterly, and upon her knees called God to witness to what she said."


[ The Emergence of Heroes ]
Among the ill weeds which flourished amid the long dissensions of the civil war, Matthew Hopkins, the witch-finder, stands eminent in his sphere. This vulgar fellow resided, in the year 1644, at the town of Manningtree, in Essex, and made himself very conspicuous in discovering the devil's marks upon several unhappy witches. The credit he gained by his skill in this instance seems to have inspired him to renewed exertions. In the course of a very short time, whenever a witch was spoken of in Essex, Matthew Hopkins was sure to be present, aiding the judges with his knowledge of "such cattle," as he called them.

[ Waterboarding Comes of Age ]
As his reputation increased, he assumed the title of "Witchfinder General," and travelled through the counties of Norfolk, Essex, Huntingdon, and Sussex, for the sole purpose of finding out witches. In one year he brought sixty poor creatures to the stake. The test he commonly adopted was that of swimming, so highly recommended by King James in his Demonologie. The hands and feet of the suspected persons were tied together crosswise, the thumb of the right hand to the toe of the left foot, and vice versa. They were then wrapped up in a large sheet or blanket, and laid upon their backs in a pond or river. If they sank, their friends and relatives had the poor consolation of knowing they were innocent, but there was an end of them: if they floated, which, when laid carefully on the water was generally the case, there was also an end of them; for they were deemed guilty of witchcraft, and burned accordingly.

A Few More Bad Apples

Unlike normal barrels of apples, we're finding that the worst ones are at the top, not the bottom.

Lyndi Englund were dismissed earlier by the Bush adminstration as "a few bad apples". Rumsfeld (supposedly) offered Bush a resignation over the issue, which Bush (supposedly) refused.

So why now is W lobbying to get new US laws to "clarify" the Geneva Conventions? Were the conventions not clear enough during the sentencing of Englund and the rest? Does he need the laws "clearer" to help prosecute more "rogue" torturers?

No, he made if very apparent that he wan't to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" and wants to provide more legel maneuvering room to cover his and his subordinate's backsides.

How did we get to the point where the president of the United States would be lobbying congress for more latitude in torturing people?

Will the new laws allow burning at the stake, like Europe did to the witches a few hundred years ago? Will the new laws allow the CIA to drag suspects behind cars to elicit evidence?

Curiously, W isn't asking for more laws clarifying exactly *who* is a "terrorist" and who is not. They must have some special method for determining who is guilty before submitting them to torture. Perhaps if they sink they are guilty? Perhaps that's what the "waterboarding" is all about?

It's the new Inquisition.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Service Economy

More people are employed stocking shelves and operating cash registers at Wal Mart than are employed in all of GM, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler.

America is replacing manufacturing -- which could provide health care and retirement -- with the jobs I had as a teenager.

Economist's View

Strangelove 2000


Dr. Strangelove: Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. Space could be made available at bottom of some of our deeper mineshafts. . .

President Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

Dr. Strangelove: To the contrary, sir. I think the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! (His right arm reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. The gloved hand attempts to strangle him.)

And Now:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
Mr. President, I suggest we install a democratic government--sympathetic to US interests-- in Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell: But look here Mr. Secretary, wouldn't this cause havoc in the Middle East? What if we don't succeed? If we defeat Iran's greatest enemy and fail to successfully install an anti-Iranian government, Iran would have a clear path connecting it with Syria and in turn Lebanon and on to Israel.

Redirecting troops out of Afghanistan would be a huge blow to our attempts to capture Bin Laden.

At best, if we succeed-- Iran would have a hostile military on two of its borders. Iran would be compelled into military buildup. Iran would incite every Muslim in the Middle East to view us as colonial invaders, a new Christian crusade, and to fight a guerilla war against us.

Secty Rumsfeld: To the contrary, sir. The Iraqi's will greet us as liberators. They will cast roses at our soldier's feet....Arggh!!! (His right arm reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. The gloved hand attempts to strangle him.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

HfA: Fighting from the Gutter

Another great post from HfA

When can we speak out?

Being lectured by a Republican, these days, is rather like being given a lesson in school by the dumbest kid in class. They speak - especially the president, perhaps the dumbest of the lot - condescendingly, using logical missteps, factual errors and flat-out lies to not only tell us how stupid we are, but also how right they are. Sometimes, we're good, honest people who just happen to be completely mistaken. Sometimes, we're not. Those times, we're so wrong that, should we actually be allowed to have our voices heard, the terrorists will win, and everyone you know and love will die. Oh, and vote Republican, because your children's lives depend on it!

More recently, however, a sense of abject desperation has crept into the Republican Party. Knowing that not only are Americans angry about the Republican culture of fear, corruption and incompetence, but also that they seem willing to do something about it at the ballot box this fall, Republicans have taken their rhetoric to new lows. And the moment anyone - even another Republican - criticizes even the most minute aspect of administration policy, that critic is placed alongside those who would forgive even the most tyrannical despot. Tell me, however, if that's the way Republicans are going to play it, when can we speak out? I think we know the answer to that question.

Since September 11, which happened, you'll recall, while this president was in office, Republicans have repeatedly suggested a vote for the Democrats is a vote for certain attack, or worse. Remember, shortly before the 2004 election, it was Vice President Cheney saying, "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States." You could say this sad trend again reared its ugly head last June, when walking national security threat Karl Rove said, "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," adding, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble."

More than a year later, and with countless Republican-created straw men rhetorically defeated, a White House sensing electoral disaster this fall swung back into action. Just this Tuesday, the president compared Osama bin Laden to Lenin and Hitler*, saying that "Underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake". He added that the world "paid a terrible price" for ignoring the despots' writings, urging that leaders can't follow the same path with al Qaeda. "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," Bush said, predicting victory in the "great ideological struggle of the 21st Century". Why? Because, in his words, "we have seen free nations defeat terror before". Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in an interview with Essence magazine, took things a step further or, more appropriately, a step lower. "I'm sure there are people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold," Rice said. "I know there were people who said, 'Why don't we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves?'"

But perhaps the worst - or most attention grabbing - outburst in this coordinated campaign came from Donald Rumsfeld. Last Tuesday, speaking before the American Legion, the Secretary of Defense accused the administration's critics of suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion" and of trying to appease "a new type of fascism". "But some seem not to have learned history's lessons," Rumsfeld added, saying, "Can we truly afford to believe somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars the prior day, Rumsfeld criticized a "Blame America First" mentality, saying, "And while some argue for tossing in the towel, the enemy is waiting and hoping for us to do just that. Early on, I learned from my dad - a veteran of World War II - that if you start quitting things, pretty soon you've become a quitter." He wasn't done. "Surely by now we have learned the lesson that when our country gives our troops a mission, they should have the resources and support to finish the job," he said, without the slightest hint of irony. "And surely, we have learned the dangers of giving the enemy the false impression that Americans cannot stomach a tough fight."

Wow. Take a breath and let that sink in. I know I need to, you latte-drinking traitors to the cause, because I had to resist the powerful urge to vomit as I cited each example. Now then, let's take a look at the caricature created by some of the Republican Party's "brightest" lights. To listen to them, you'd think we were terrorist-forgiving fascist-appeasers who, despite not knowing and/or ignoring history, seem intent on two things. One, taking office, which, of course, would lead to America's ultimate destruction. Two, if you listen to Rice, establishing some sort of alternative universe where she would still be someone's property, not Secretary of State**. I can't, for the life of me, think of a single Democrat who thinks that terrorists can be appeased. I've searched high and low - both at our secret Vast Left Wing Conspiracy meetings and my Global Jewish Conspiracy sessions - and I can't name a single one. And, when asked during a recent Fox News appearance, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole couldn't, either. So if you can't, Republicans, why are you still saying these things?

I have a theory, and I think it has quite a bit of supporting evidence. Knowing that they are responsible for so much that has gone wrong in this country since Bush took office, the Republicans are simply resorting to doing what they do best - attack. But, as Ann Coulter and the Coulter Republicans have proven again and again, right wingers simply cannot debate their critics on the merits of their arguments. Instead, they retreat to the gutter, from which they hurl baseless, attention-grabbing smears. Criticize Rice or Alberto Gonzales and you're a racist. Criticize the lack of progress on homeland security since September 11 and you're an attention-seeking harpy. Criticize the handling of the war and you would have appeased Hitler. When, Republicans, is criticism valid? When can we speak out? You like to act as though this is all a big game, those taking it too seriously need not apply. Well, nearly 3,000 Americans dead in Iraq and elsewhere thanks to this administration isn't a joke. You may think it is, but no one's laughing.

The White House is telling anyone that will listen - these days pretty much only the Washington press corps - that what they're doing these days not only isn't a coordinated campaign, but also that it's not, hasn't been, never will be, political. But, given the evidence and all that we know about the Bush administration, what else could it be? When you see so many prominent Republicans criticizing their opponents as has happened, it's political. In fact, it's beyond political. To criticize their opponents in the manner Republicans have is undemocratic. It poisons the debate about a topic - the war - that needs to take place. It also cheapens the debate to the point where Republicans can traffic in lies, yet Democrats (or even a Republican willing to join, to borrow a phrase, the coalition of the rational) pointing them out instantly get branded as incompetents supporting the murderous dictator du jour. Funny, too, that Republicans accuse critics of forgetting their history. Consider that, when speaking about terrorism Wednesday, Bush said, "The terrorists who declared war on America represent no nation, they defend no territory, and they wear no uniform. They do not mass armies on borders, or flotillas of warships on the high seas." Yeah, sounds just like Hitler's armies.

* Tell me, which of those three hasn't been found by those who were after them? I thought so.

** Never mind, of course, that Rice hides behind such empty accusations, yet it was her spotted shopping for shoes as thousands died along the Gulf Coast.