Friday, December 09, 2005

"You'll Find This World Is Full of Sons of Bitches..."

“We’re not in the business of torturing anyone.”
—Nabil Fahami, Egyptian ambassador to the United States, quoted in the New York Times, Dec. 9, 2005.

“We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.”
—President Bush speaking of the Iraqi “threat” at Cincinnati Museum Center, Oct. 7, 2002.

“I am not a crook.”
—Richard Nixon, speaking to newspaper editors in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 17, 1973.

“Mr. Austern, you'll find this world is full of sons of bitches, and they're always hard at work at it.”
—Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis to his law clerk, Tommy Austern, after Austern railed against obvious lies he was reading in the press.

It’s not that we didn’t know they were lying all along. Some of us knew. The latest lie to unravel in all its scabrous details: The Iraq-al-Qaeda tie, one of the least believable bits of “evidence” in the run-up to the war anyway, but also one of the most compelling for the American public, about 60 percent of whom thought the link existed. You can’t blame the public. Bush said the link existed. Cheney repeated it (and repeats it still!). Colin Powell said it existed. It was one of their crucial puzzle pieces as they put together that monstrously bogus case for war. Never mind that the puzzle piece was a jagged shard of lies extracted from a Libyan al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan and “rendered” to Egyptian torture chambers, where the Libyan “admitted” to the link only to win concessions from his torturers, as the Times reports this morning. (It’s significant that the CIA handed the man over to Egyptian authorities as opposed to, say, Jordanian authorities: Egypt has a long history of hatred for Libyans, their geographic and historic rivals to their West. The torture would be most effective in Egyptian dungeons. That sort of attention to detail is what Condoleezza Rice, a Kissinger in cobra’s clothing, must have meant when she freshly defended rendition as a way to take advantage of locals’ cultural affinities for each other.) The CIA discarded the man’s confessions in 2004, admitting that it had been fabricated from nothing, just as the CIA discarded the two other jagged puzzle pieces the Bush administration relied on to convince the public that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction: the story of “Curveball,” the fabricator-defector in Germany, and the story of Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, the Kurd who’d fled into the CIA’s eager arms with a vendetta against Saddam, but a story of WMDs that also crumbled on the slightest inspection. What else was there to justify war? Judith Miller articles in the New York Times.

Commentators and a few editorial boards echoed the skepticism even Bush administration insiders attached to all those reports. But the skepticism was muffled and ultimately ignored. The bogus evidence was massaged into fact. And it was peddled on prime time by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, and all their lower minions. A lie protected by the trust invested in the presidency of the United States is truth’s Maginot Line. It looks impregnable, indestructible, impossible to counter. Between the words of a few commentators and the word of a president, Americans will take their president at his word any day. As they should. The presidency represents trust and credibility—until it is destroyed by those who abuse it. Truth eventually finds a way around the lies, no matter how massively protected. (Not to compare those who went around it to truth by any means, but remember what happened to the Maginot Line).

Bush has been destroying that trust and credibility more systematically than Nixon, more ruinously than any president since the crookeries of Reconstruction.  Just as Bush has been raiding the Treasury to bankroll the deceptive prosperity of the last couple of years (on the back of mammoth deficits to day and a mammoth reckoning tomorrow), he’s been plundering the presidency’s trust and digging America’s credibility into deficit, in the world’s eyes, for years to come. There’s the obvious damage of the war in its day-to-day horrors and continuing tallies. But there’s also the long-term, strategic damage that will have ruinous repercussions on the nation’s foreign policy, whoever will have to steer it: Republican or Democrat, they’re both screwed. We’ve lost the world’s trust. We’ve lost the very meaning of America as we (and the world) once understood it, and depended it. By doing such things as rendition-torture programs, running secret prisons, fabricating evidence to make war and subsequently standing by it, admitting to no errors beyond the cosmetic “adjustments” Bush spoke of (to make it seem as if he was adapting and owning up to errors), we’ve adopted the means and language of totalitarian regimes. We are the world’s sons of bitches.