Monday, November 05, 2007

Franco’s fascist Spain, unconscionable torture, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and the utter repulsiveness of their political hackwork.

Why is Senator
Schumer smiling?

During the “transition” from Generalissimo Franco’s fascist dictatorship to democracy after the dictator’s death, filmmakers in Spain still had to be careful what they did.

It was known that people had suffered brutal torture in Franco’s dungeons, and that in 1975, a young student who later was found to be innocent, had suffered the awful form of Franco’s capital punishment – death by slow strangulation using a garrote.

One still didn’t come straight out in Spain under the fascists and talk about such incidents – not even for a while after Franco was dead.

Speaking in code of torture

Instead, in 1975, director Pilar Miro directed a movie about another case of false accusation and torture that occurred in 1910. But this was a subterfuge. People in Spain understood what other event the film might parallel.

Entitled El Crimen de Cuenca, the film tells the story of two peasants who were accused of murder. There were no witnesses to the so-called murder and no physical evidence against the men at all. There wasn't even evidence that a murder had occurred. Consequently, a hard line prosecutor who derided his predecessor for being “a liberal” suggested to the police that they somehow or other get a confession out of the two men.

Torture so brutal it’s painful to watch

What followed – I saw the film this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – was difficult to watch. It involved not only brutal beatings, but also techniques – shall we call them “rough interrogation?” – such as hammering wedges of wood under fingernails, ripping off fingernails with a pair of pliers, “strangulation” of testicles, and “non physical rough treatment” such as denying water to the parched victims.

Not surprisingly, the two peasants eventually gave the police the confessions that the prosecutor wanted. However, the two confessions weren’t consistent with each other.

Moreover, a police theory about where the men had hidden the body, which the brutalized peasants parroted after sufficient torture in a police dungeon, yielded no body.

Finally, the police concocted a theory that the bones of the alleged murder victim had been burned, pulverized and scattered, accounting for the inability to find his remains. The peasants then were made to confess that this new theory was in fact what had happened. Eight years later, the murder “victim” showed up alive and well, and the two falsely accused peasants, who had been spared death at the garrote by a last minute plea deal, went free.

Like the Inquisition and Franco Spain
– except that it’s happening today

What’s remarkable about this film, now more than 21 years old, is how pertinent it is to the current debate over torture presided over or done at the behest of Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. The Cuenca case supports with an historical case study the claim that torture produces, at best, highly unreliable intelligence.

Torture someone enough, by any of a variety of methods, and your victim eventually will tell you what he thinks you want to hear. Anything to stop the pain. That is true of torture whether it happened in Spain before and during the Franco era, or in some secret CIA dungeon today.

Relying on the unreliable

Relying on completely unreliable torture techniques such as waterboarding for intelligence may help explain why after six years, the Bush administration has still failed to capture Osama Bin Laden. Or why, in the pursuit of terrorists in Iraq, we’ve managed many times to massacre innocent civilians instead while the intended target somehow "got away."

Just as bad – and perhaps more horrifying to us as Americans – is the sly acknowledgment that we torture people even as we deny it. (Officially we don’t torture people but we can’t or won’t confirm that we don’t waterboard them or that waterboarding is torture. Wink wink.)

Horrifying, brutal and coy

Judge Michael Mukasey, who now seems inevitable as the next U.S. Attorney General, took an even more outrageously coy stance in his U.S. Attorney General confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in effect saying that he couldn’t speak to torture by waterboarding because he doesn’t know what waterboarding is. If true, he may be the only person in the United States who hasn’t heard all about it.

It has come to the point where you simply don’t expect more from Bush administration nominees, not to mention the President himself. In the end, history will remember them primarily as a bunch of thugs and accomplices of grand larcenists who funneled money from the U.S. Treasury into the big business equivalent of racketeering scams. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to fear that they will find company on the other end of the political spectrum

Two nauseating senators
– sad to say, both Democrats

What I find nauseating is that the likes of Senators Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein, both Democrats, would in effect wink at some the worst human behavior mankind has committed short of mass extermination.

One day, some American kid in uniform will suffer similar torture. The justification the enemy uses will be that the Americans have been doing the same thing for years.

Schumer adds to the outrage by declaring, according to the New York Times, that he “had obtained Mr. Mukasey’s promise to enforce laws that banned any of the harsh interrogation methods known to have been used on Queda terrorists….”

That “promise” from a man who refuses to answer similarly under oath before a U.S. Senate committee isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s not written on. And the Schumer statement itself all but screeches with escape clause weasels.

I have made it a practice until now to avoid heaping negative criticism on Democrats on this blog. They suffer, frequently and unfairly at the hands of right wing bloggers, commentators and editorial writers.

But I find it unfathomable that Schumer and Feinstein have agreed to confirm Mukasey. Perhaps somebody offered them a bone – funds for their states that the Bush administration will decide not to block, for example. Or perhaps – since their reasons for confirmation are so incredible I am forced to imagine a reason – they made an agreement not to reveal some skeletons someone has found in their political closets.

If so, they have made a deal with the devil, and the fruit their deal will bear will be brutal torture in some Franco-like CIA or CIA proxy dungeon.

Odious political hacks

You can compromise over matters like taxes, water rights or criminal penalties. But there is a certain moral place where decent people ought to draw a line and say, "I will not agree to let this to happen." If there ever was a matter that shouted against compromising, it's the matter of torture.

Sad to say, Senators Schumer and Feinstein have revealed their true nature and the truth about them is both surprising and unpleasant.

They are both odious little political hacks.

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