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Away to prison for three years goes Lynndie England, her pleas for mercy ignored by the military judge in Fort Hood, Texas. So who are the penalized thus far to indicate America’s revulsion over the systematic use of torture by its own forces? It tots up to a handful of rednecks.
Scot-free go those who inherited a secret system of torture that goes back decades and who ensured that its relentless and widening application would soon bring the practice to light. The framers of the policy go free. The lawyers who gave torture its new garb of legality plump themselves down in richly endowed chairs at our most esteemed law schools or are rewarded with seats on the Supreme Court. The senior military officers, who ordered the use of dogs, isolation cells smeared with filth, water-boards and other techniques designed to drive their captives mad, have escaped all sanction, except for the eloquent reproofs of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. The lumpen intellectuals, like Jonathan Alter and Alan Dershowitz, who clamored for torture need fear no indictment or downtime on the cable networks.
If there was a real party of opposition, maybe those who mandated the new torture system would face some sanction. If Democratic Party leaders had made an issue of it, some fiber would have been given to the calls for punitive sanction of the engineers and administrators of the torture systems. But top Democrats were silent. Torture was not an issue in the Kerry campaign. And the grunts were abandoned as surely as Kerry abandoned the rednecks of Appalachia and the working poor across America.
Thus it is that with each month that passes the Democratic Party seems to have touched bottom. Then it promptly sinks even deeper into the ooze of cowardice and irrelevance.
While Interstate 45 from Galveston to Houston was clogged with evacuees fleeing the wrath of hurricane Rita, there was a similar jam on the beltway round Washington DC as Democrats fled the city on the eve on the September 24 antiwar rally, panic-stricken lest their presence in Washington might somehow be construed as endorsement of the rally’s antiwar message.
Here’s a war which the voting population of the United States views a hostility that is soaring by the day. The latest CNN poll released on September 26 shows 67 per cent disapproving of Bush’s Iraq strategy. This represents a jump of 10 per cent holding this position since CNN ran its last poll, less than a month ago.
More than half CNN’s latest sample declare that Iraq will never become a democracy; 63 per cent want to see a pull-out start right now.
It looks very as much as though attitudes to the war no longer break along traditional party lines: 40 per cent of Republicans oppose their own president, in regarding the war as a bust. At Saturday’s rally it was only Ralph Nader who pointed out that Republicans may be the antiwar movement’s prime emerging market.
Nader pointed out that Rep Lynn Woolsey’s “homeward bound” resolution to begin the immediate withdrawal of US troops is cosponsored by two Republicans, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Ron Paul, whose Texas constituency stretches south west of Austin down to the Rio Grande.
You would think that on the most elementary precepts of political self-advancement, congressional Democrats would have been besieging the rally’s organizers for a speaker’s slot. But the Democrats have not only forgotten how to fix elections, they’ve lost the simplest political instincts of all, opportunism and grandstanding.
Not fifty, no twenty, not ten, but only a fistful of congressional Democrats, led by Cynthia McKinney a woman the Democrats tried their best to destroy three years ago addressed the 150,000 people on the Mall protesting the war in Iraq, on September 24. A few other Democrats were spotted skulking on the fringes of the rally, no doubt angling for the briefest photo-op of the momentous day.
For those interested in some of the reasons for this incredible abdication, we can cite former National Security Agency staffer and muckraker Wayne Madsen who reported two days after the rally that “according to Democratic insiders on Capitol Hill AIPAC put out the word that any member of Congress who appeared at the protest, where some speakers were to represent pro-Palestinian views, would face their political wrath.”
Madsen wrote that three members of Congress had been scheduled to speak at the rally McKinney, Woolsey and John Conyers. “Word is that AIPAC will direct its massive campaign to Wolsey’s neo-con and pro-Iraq war primary challenger, California state assemblyman Joe Nation, who has strong connections to the RAND corporation.”
Insofar as there is an official position on the war from congressional Democrats it’s presumably the “US Army Relief Act” put forward by Senators Joseph Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and Jack Reed and Reps Ellen Tauscher and Mark Udall. Reed, Tauscher and Udall are among the most liberal Democrats on the Hill. The resolution calls for the increase in US military troop strength by 80,000 over the next four years.
This is not a position that is finding much favor among American voters. The recent CNN poll registered just 8 per cent of respondents, both Democrats and Republicans, as supporting an increase in US troop strength in Iraq.
There’s scant doubt that 2008 will see an anti-war Democrat running in the presidential primaries. It might well be Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin , although it seems Mrs Feingold cited his presidential ambitions as one of the reasons she was divorcing him, a plan she disclosed to the senator earlier this year.
But Feingold fled the September 24 rally just like the others. Perhaps he feared jeers from the demonstrators from his bizarre performance in another political arena, the hearings on Bush’s nomination of John Roberts as chief justice of the US Supreme Court.
In the Senate Justice Committee’s questioning of Roberts, Feingold’s tough interrogation extracted damaging testimony from Roberts, on the nominee’s view that US citizens can be held indefinitely, without access to a lawyer, on the thinnest suspicions that they might be associated with a terrorist organization.
Feingold also pinned down the Catholic zealot on the death penalty, where he forced Roberts to disclose that he stands with Scalia on the latter’s view that innocence is no defense against the executioner’s lethal needle.
Then Feingold voted to confirm the 50-year old Roberts as chief justice, a post he may well hold through most of the first half of the twenty-first century. Another liberal Democrat, Senator Kent Conrad, enthused that he found Roberts to be “extraordinarily intelligent, and he has assured me that he brings no ideological agenda to the Supreme Court. He wants to be a justice for all of the people.”
Then there is Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He joined Feingold in voting to send Robert’s’ nomination to the full senate. And what grave reasons of state prompted Leahy to adopt this position? If we are to believe a report in The Hill, a well-informed source on such matters, Leahy was miffed at a gag order that had been issued by Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader.
Reid had ordered all his senatorial colleagues to keep their mouths shut on how they would vote on Roberts until after the hearings were over and they could speak with one clarion voice. But Reid became so incensed at Roberts’ answers to Feingold that he could contain himself no longer and publicly declared that Roberts was unfit to lead the Court.
Up to this point Leahy, on his admission, was on the fence. He had prepared two speeches, pro and con Roberts. Reid’s manly outburst was the decisive factor. Leahy cast aside the text offering measured rebukes of Bush’s nominee and grasped the other speech supporting the nomination. He confided to colleagues that Reid had gone too far.
In the end, 23 Democrats, more than half, voted to confirm Roberts, including such luminaries as Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Lieberman and Christorpher Dodd.
The prime loyal Democratic voting bloc left consists of black Americans. If one facet of Roberts’s career is indisputable, it’s his lifelong hostility toward, and efforts to undermine, civil rights laws and federal court rulings on desegregation. This carries scant weight among Democrats on the Hill. You want further evidence of Democratic collapse? How many of them went to New Orleans to protest the most glaring exhibition of racism in America since Bull Connor wielded his cattle prod? Shaquille O’Neill, who air-lifted tons of aid to the Crescent City, couldn’t even assemble a full basketball team out of the paltry number of big-time Democrats who came to New Orleans in its hours of crisis.
Note: This column originally ran in the print edition of The Nation.