The Truth, Mainly - 11/05/2007

Time to rethink torture rules?
by Leon Satterfield

So what are we to think about the brouhaha over the president's nomination of Michael Mukasey to be our new Attorney General?

You know—the guy who says he needs to do more research before he can say waterboarding should be illegal.

You know about waterboarding, don't you? It's a form of torture that GOP Sen. John McCain, who's running for the Republican nomination for President, says dates back to the torture used in the Spanish Inquisition that started in 1478 and didn't end until 1781, one of the nastiest chapters in the history of Christendom. Sen. McCain knows about torture, having spent time as a POW in Vietnam.

I get a bad case of the fantods just reading about waterboarding. According to a NY Times piece (dated Oct. 31, Halloween) "Waterboarding involves strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face with cloth and pouring water over the cloth to produce a feeling of suffocation. Variations of the technique, designed to give a prisoner a feeling of imminent drowning, have been used for centuries."

Claustrophobe that I am, that description sends shivers up my spine. Makes me think that I'd tell you whatever lie you wanted to hear.

Mr. Mukasey himself said that waterboarding and other nasty interrogation tricks "seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me." But he couldn't say whether waterboarding was illegal—even though the practice by the C.I.A., the NY Times reported, "was outlawed for use by the military in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005."

The ten Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Mr. Mukasey to say that "Your unwillingness to state that waterboarding is illegal may place Americans at risk of being subject to this abusive technique."

Sen. Richard Durbin said "Judge Mukasey makes the point that in law, precision matters. So do honesty and openness. And on those counts, he falls far short."

The Washington Post, also on Halloween Day, quoted Mr. Mukasey saying that waterboarding as seen by the senators "seems to be over the line, or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans." But, he went on, "hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical."

Sen. Durbin had this complaint: "We asked Judge Mukasey a simple and straightforward question: Is waterboarding illegal? While this question has been answered clearly by many others…Judge Mukasey spent four pages responding and still didn't provide an answer."


In the meantime, the killing in Iraq continues. U.S. troops in the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division have been in Baghdad for 14 months. They're scheduled to come home at the end of this month.

The Oct. 28 Washington Post gives us this scene: a line of Humvees carrying some of those troops through Baghdad, through downed power lines, a bomb crater blocking one lane of the road, the remains of a car bomb serving as "hideous public art." One of the Humvees goes through "a vast pool of knee-high sewage water…that seeps in the door of the vehicle."

One soldier tells the reporter "When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street. The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks."

When the reporter asked him if the U.S. endeavor was worth the sacrifice of the 20 GIs from his battalion who had been killed in Baghdad, the soldier said "No. I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

So should we just say the hell with it and join the late Kurt Vonnegut in that macabre refrain of his sprinkled throughout his "Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade, A Duty-Dance With Death," (the best World War II novel I've ever read)? You may remember the refrain. He repeats it after every scene in which he tells us of horrendous losses of life: "So it goes."

And so it does.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

©Copyright Lincoln Journal Star