Crimes, Madness and American Torture

May 9th, 2006 - by admin

Jon Carroll / San Francisco Chronicle – 2006-05-09 08:44:01

(May 9, 2006) — No one asked me, but I figure Zacarias Moussaoui got the prison sentence he deserved, considering that he was
(a) in jail at the time Sept. 11 happened,
(b) had no demonstrable link with the implementation of the Sept. 11 plot, and
(c) was crazy as a jaybird.

The distasteful battle of the grieving family members pretty much balanced out, and the jury found that Moussaoui’s terrible childhood and family history of mental illness were mitigating circumstances.

It probably would have been kinder to Moussaoui to kill him, but that idea was not advanced by the prosecution. So now he gets to sit in the same jail as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. They all had dreams of grandeur, but only Moussaoui was so totally unstable that he never got to live out those dreams.

Moussaoui should never really have been up for the death penalty. His brain is a snake pit of hatred and violence, but if that were illegal, there’d be a lot more people on death row. The government is increasingly trying to punish people for what can only be called thought crimes, but that doesn’t make it right.

The government has in custody several people who were, by all accounts, deeply involved in the planning of Sept. 11. But the government could not put those people on trial, which is why there was all this strutting and puffing about Moussaoui.

The reason that government can’t try the real suspects? Because it tortured them. The government does not want evidence of torture mentioned in open court, so the bad guys sit in Guantanamo or some other secret hellhole while everyone pretends they don’t exist.

I remember when we were one of the more highly regarded nations on the planet, precisely because we did not torture people. Sure, war was hell, and African Americans were mistreated all over the nation, but still, as a general policy, we did not torture the people we captured in battle. Now we torture. We pretend we don’t; we murmur pieties; but we torture.

One of the reasons not to torture prisoners, one of the reasons for the Geneva Conventions in the first place, was to try to ensure that American soldiers would not themselves be tortured if they were captured. But the Bush administration has shown a stunning disregard for the safety of American soldiers right from the get-go, so this latest bit of lawlessness should come as no surprise. Indeed, John Bolton, now our ambassador to the United Nations, said in 1997 that treaties were simply political acts and “not legally binding.”

I’m not sure where we get off complaining that Iran is ignoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when the Bush administration claims the right to disdain any previous agreement it no longer cares for.

It’s really hard to sway neutral nations when we pick and choose among the international laws and then tell them that they are not free to pick and choose. Why not? Because we’re us, and they’re them. Also, we torture people. Did I mention that?

Brian Urquhart, in the current edition of the New York Review of Books, provides a useful overview of the administration’s position on international laws and conventions — the article is available online at

It reminded me that, once upon a time, we were the leading internationalist nation in the world. We strongly supported the formation of the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were serious about promoting humane behavior around the world. We preferred peace to war. We did not automatically assume that all foreigners were out to get us.

Now what we care about is “defending America’s interests.” We do not seem to believe that a world without torture is in America’s interest, or that a world with international accountability for armed aggression is in America’s interest, or even that a world without war is in America’s interest. I am not at all clear what this administration thinks America’s interest is, at least in any long-term sense. Unlimited energy supplies? Borders closed to all immigrants? A church on every street corner?

Mao Zedong famously said: “Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.” Well, we’re all communists now, and doesn’t that just beat all?

First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don’t think we ever said — at least I know I didn’t say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein. We did say that he was a state sponsor of terror — by the way, not declared a state sponsor of terror by me, but declared by other administrations. We also did say that Zarqawi, the man who is now wreaking havoc and killing innocent life, was in Iraq. And so the state sponsor of terror was a declaration by a previous administration. But I don’t want to be argumentative, but I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks ….

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

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