In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."White House, Senators Near Pact on Interrogation Rules."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner during the Vietnam War who led the Senate rebellion against the administration's proposals, said, "The agreement that we've entered into gives the president the tools that he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice." But he added: "There is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved."
Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so."
The biggest hurdle, Senate sources said, was convincing administration officials that lawmakers would never accept language that allowed Bush to appear to be reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. Once that was settled, they said, the White House poured most of its energy into defining "cruel or inhuman treatment" that would constitute a crime under the War Crimes Act. The administration wanted the term to describe techniques resulting in "severe" physical or mental pain, but the senators insisted on the word "serious."
Negotiations then turned to the amount of time that a detainee's suffering must last before the treatment amounts to a war crime. Administration officials preferred designating "prolonged" mental or physical symptoms, while the senators wanted something milder. They settled on "serious and non-transitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged."
These definitions appear in a section of the legislation that specifically lists "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions that might bring criminal penalties.
If there is a distinction between the broad category of governments that we now call "democracies" and those that we name otherwise (totalitarianisms, dictatorships, tyrannies, or the catch-all "régimes"), then it is that so-called democratic governments limit the scope of their cruelties in order to hide them from their populations, whereas other régimes speak of them in code so as to simultaneously deny and affirm their practice. To name torture, unchallengable imprisonment, secret trials, and any other coercive tool available to States, is to remind your own citizens that such tools may be brought to bear on them. Democracies, socieites "of laws not men" or "of the rule of law," do and always have tortured captives, engaged in unjust wars, conducted secret trials, and imprisoned men without hope of discovery or appeal, but so long as the powers in these societies wish to maintain what Frank Zappa called the profitable illusion of freedom, itself a very effective method of control and a surprisingly effective ensurer of self-induced and self-perpetuating conformity, these tactics are kept as much as possible from public awareness. When hints of them do dribble out--and they inevitably do--then the familiar machinery of patriotic insinuation is cranked up, and the "leftists" or whomever are denounced for naming that-which-we-do-not-do, although we do, in fact, do it.
At some point the illusion of freedom does become too expensive to continue, and a nation like the United States, as it moves away from a model of governance toward a model of outright rule, increasingly acknowledges the various sordid practices it previously concealed from its citizens. First, it acknowledges these practices only as applied to others: foreigners, evildoers, terrorists. Then, with the help of willing patsies like Andrew Sullivan, who often audibly oppose these very practices of torture and detention, it begins naming internal enemies, fifth columns, terrorists sympathizers, leftists, communists, fascists, what have you. None of these names has any inherent meaning. The elasticity of the categories is the point.
The rulers of state will always speak in euphemism because they want to maintain moral authority as a necessary component of their monopoly on coercive force. Our enemies are torturers and killers; we are only interrogators and soldiers. They "force conversions at gunpoint" or "drag the bodies of American contractors through the streets." We "give the President the tools he needs." After a sufficient period in which the meaning of our own euphemisms becomes clear to our own people; after Americans come to understand exactly what tortures we use against our external enemies; then comes the period when internal enemies themselves merit equal treatment: first as agents of foreign enemies, then simply as enemies of the state.
Along the way, there will be two kinds of domestic opposition. Serious opposition will be marginalized as radical or leftist or theoretical. (Your future internal enemies right here.) As I mentioned above, much of this work will be carried out by the nominal mainstream opposition, who will lament "excesses" even as they claim that some extraordinary measures may be necessary against an "unprecedented" enemy. The complicit political opposition will likewise contribute to the sidelining of true opposition by denigrating it as "impractical" or "unelectable." Their citizen supporters, who are intimidated by charges of radicalism and unelectability, will cry that they've been betrayed, but will still urge you:
Of course you must vote and you must vote for Democrats.Meanwhile, the Democrats:
have put their trust in Senators Graham, McCain and Warner to push back against the White House, and Thursday they signaled that they intended to continue cooperating. "Five years after Sept. 11, it is time to make the tough and smart decisions to give the American people the real security they deserve," said the Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.When people read Pastor Niemöller's famous poem, they fail to realize that even by the very first line, it was already too late.