Yesterday, the Washington Post gave Bob Woodward the front page for a story in which Susan J Crawford, the convening authority for Bush’s military commissions acknowledged the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay.
“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” she said.
She was referring to the treatment of a Saudi man who was kept nude in sustained isolation, deprived of sleep and exposed to cold, until his condition became “life threatening”.
As scoops go, this is hardly Watergate. The blogger Digby points out that Al-Qahtani’s interrogation logs were published in Time three years ago, while Dick Cheney, CIA Director Michael Hayden and George W. Bush himself have all acknowledged the use of waterboarding, a favoured torture technique of the Khmer Rouge.
No, the significance of Woodward’s article lies almost solely in Crawford’s use of the T word.
Throughout the Bush years, politicians and the media, both in Australia and abroad, have been prepared to play brazen Alice in Wonderland games with definitions. You’ll recall that Humpty Dumpty, a fellow who looks and sounds very much like Dick Cheney, scornfully explained to Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
That’s been the modus operandi of the Bush gang. You can admit to the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, s-xual humiliation and the rest of it — brutalities long familiar from the dungeons of the most sinister regimes in the world — so long as you barefacedly announce, as Bush did in 2006: “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values.”
Similarly, despite the Downing Street memo, Bush and Blair and Howard can, by defining “truth” in the narrowest possible fashion, insist that they never actually lied their way into Iraq. The world’s legal experts can state, in the clearest possible terms, that the invasion violated international law, yet because the good and the great rely on their own definition of legality, we see the war’s architects not in a dock but in grotesque ceremonies where they pin medals of freedom on each other.
Still, the Woodward story represents just one of many signs that a change is now afoot. For instance, if the T word constituted one of the great taboos of the Bush era, the I word was another. The rule for politicians and journalists was strict: one could not, despite all the evidence to the contrary, acknowledge that President Bush was a dribbling idiot. No, despite the gaffes, the bizarre press conferences and the weird facial contortions, the pundits all had to pretend that the man leading the free world was not a Telegraph ran a column documenting the best-known Bushisms, a piece significant because it was authored not by Michael Moore or John Pilger but by Boris Johnson, London’s ferociously right-wing Mayor.
Of course, the real question is whether this new willingness to call things by their right names will translate into action. Take torture, for instance. A week ago, Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, received a sentence of 97 years gaol for torturing his opponents.
“It is hard to conceive of any more serious offenses against the dignity and the lives of human beings,” U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga Altonaga said.
“The international community condemns torture.”
Matthew Friedrich from the the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division released an equally stern statement. “Our message to human rights violators, no matter where they are, remains the same,’ he said.
“We will use the full reach of U.S. law … to hold you accountable for your crimes.”
One couldn’t agree more. So now that we have an admission that what took place in Guantanamo constituted torture, when do the prosecutions begin? The truth has long been available to anyone who wanted to see it. It’s well past time for the Humpty Dumpty gang to take their great fall.