Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dianne Feinstein's finest hour

Andrew Sullivan at The Dish has long been a good source for those opposing our use of torture. Most of the recent posts on his blog have been about the torture report Feinstein's committee released yesterday. Except for Senator McCain, who has first-hand experience of torture, Republicans opposed releasing the report and are now defending torture. The Republican Party: the party of voter suppression, the party that wants to prevent Americans from getting medical care, the party that wants to force women to have babies for theological reasons, and the anti-immigrant party is now the torture party.

But the White House isn't exactly covering itself in glory. Sullivan quotes Jerome Waldman:

And even the White House can’t seem to bring itself to call this by its true name. Today I was on a background call with a group of senior administration officials, and they were asked repeatedly why they seemed so reluctant to use the word “torture,” even after President Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks.” One official replied, “We’re not going to go case by case in a report like this and try to affix a label to each action.” But they do affix a label: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which they used again and again, accepting the euphemistic label the Bush administration affixed to it. The White House certainly deserves credit for ultimately supporting the release of this report (even if they seemed reluctant to do so).

Apparently the White House is clinging to the "enhanced interrogation" euphemism for torture because if it called it by its right name it would have to prosecute those responsible, a can of worms it's reluctant to open.

George Orwell identified the practice in Politics and the English Language (1946):

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. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

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