More Important Than Boxing

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Long before Thomas Hauser turned his literary eye to boxing, he was a  writer with serious political credentials.  One of his books ('Missing') served as the basis for the Academy-Award-winning Costa- Gavres film starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Another Hauser work ('Final Warning') made its way to the screen as 'Chernobyl: The Final Warning' starring Jon Voight and Jason Robards.  Each year, Hauser reaches out to boxing fans who read Secondsout.com with an article of political note.  This year's work 'More Important Than Boxing: 2007' deserves the widest distribution possible. The Daily Banter is pleased to share it with our readers.

More Important Than Boxing: 2007

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By Thomas Hauser

We don't stop being citizens when we enter the world of sports. With that in mind, once a year I use this space to address issues that are more important than boxing.

Democracy should be practiced, not just celebrated. One of the most troubling aspects of George Bush’s tenure in office has been his assault on the judicial underpinnings of American democracy. Despite his rhetoric, Mr. Bush has dishonored the fundamental traditions of American justice. Anyone who isn't outraged at what he has done isn't paying attention.

U.S. Attorneys who refuse to conduct criminal investigations in accord with political commands from the White House have been removed from office.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby (Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff) was
convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice after lying to federal
agents and to a grand jury which was investigating the leak of the name
of a CIA operative. He was sentenced to thirty months in prison; but
before he could be incarcerated, Mr. Bush commuted his sentence. The
commutation had all the earmarks of buying Libby’s silence. Thanks to
the president, Mr. Libby (who commited a crime that bears directly on
national security) served less time in jail than Paris Hilton.But
the most grotesque aspect of the Bush Administration’s distortion of
justice has been its repeated violation of constitutional rights and
reliance upon torture as a tool in the “war on terror.”

There
was a time when the United States stood as a beacon of hope for the
proposition that human rights are deserving of respect. Article 3 of
the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (to which the U.S. is a signatory)
prohibits, “mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture” in addition to
the “humiliating and degrading treatment” of detainees. In autumn 2007,
the United States Supreme Court ruled that military detainees in the
“war on terror” must be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions.
In response, Mr. Bush issued an executive order of dubious legality
that simply reclassified the detainees.

The Bush Administration
now takes the position that detainees can be held indefinitely and do
not have a right to contest their detention in federal court or before
another neutral decision-maker. Suspects are imprisoned in undisclosed
locations without counsel or notification to their families. Many of
them are interrogated in secret prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand, and
Eastern Europe, where their captors rely on interrogation techniques
developed by the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the former
Soviet Union. These techniques include waterboarding, sleep
deprivation, prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, and beatings.

The
Bush Administration’s guidelines for officially-sanctioned torture
allow for everything but “extreme acts causing severe pain of the sort
that accompanies serious physical injury leading to death or organ
failure.” In other words, it’s permissible to break someone’s leg with
a crowbar. That might be an “extreme act causing severe pain of the
sort that accompanies serious physical injury” but it wouldn’t
necessarily “lead to death or organ failure.”

One can make a
rational argument in support of the use of torture in certain limited,
clearly-defined, closely-regulated instances. Suppose, for example, the
authorities know that a nuclear weapon is about to be detonated on
American soil and believe that a detainee has information which, if
revealed, could preclude the carnage? The dialogue regarding a
hypothetical of this nature would be similar in many respects to the
debate over capital punishment.

The argument against capital
punishment is twofold: (1) there are those who think that it debases
any society that employs it; and (2) an innocent person might be
executed. I personally believe that there are instances when capital
punishment is warranted. Many people take a contrary view. But under
American law (at least, in theory), there is a clearly-defined process
that must be followed before a death penalty is administered.

By
contrast, under present circumstances, the utilization of torture by
our government appears to be arbitrary. Not only does it debase our
society; there is also a legitimate fear that innocent people are being
tortured and killed.

It would be comforting to think that the
men and women responsible for interrogating detainees in the “war on
terror” are capable operatives with sound judgment. But what we know
about the Bush Administration offers scant hope in that regard.

The
centerpiece of the “war on terror” has been the invasion of Iraq. The
rationale for the invasion keeps changing. First, we invaded Iraq
because Saddam Hussein was purportedly building weapons of mass
destruction. When that charge proved false, the war became about
“bringing freedom to the Iraqi people.” By that logic, we should also
invade China to bring freedom to the Chinese people. Now, we’re
implored to “stay the course” in Iraq because it’s important to stay
the course.

There will be no "victory" for the United States in
Iraq. Iraq barely functions as a country anymore. It's a bloody
conglomeration of local militias, warlords, terrorists, the U.S.
military, the Iraqi military, and other disparate forces. The only
remaining questions are how many more lives will be lost, how much more
money will it cost, and how bad the damage to our longterm interests
and standing in the international community will be before we withdraw.

That
was made clear by General Ricardo Sanchez (former commander of American
forces in Iraq), who told a gathering of military reporters last month
that the Bush Administration’s handling of the war was based on “a
catastophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan that has
led to a nightmare with no end in sight. There has been,” General
Sanchez said, “a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent
strategic leadership” by leaders who have been “derelict in their
duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

The following is a
sampling of mishaps (characterized by total incompetence) that have
come to light since I wrote about the invasion of Iraq in this forum
one year ago:

* The Bush Administration flew nearly $12 billion
in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq and distributed the cash with
inadequate controls over who was receiving it and how it was spent. The
cash weighed 363 tons and was sent to Baghdad for disbursement to Iraqi
ministries and U.S. contractors. A good portion of it was retained for
private personal use or fell into the hands of terrorists. As Henry
Waxman (chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight
and Government Reform) queried, " Who in their right mind would send
363 tons of cash into a war zone?"

* The Special Inspector
General for Iraq Reconstruction reported to Congress that only 12,000
of the 500,000 weapons given to the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and
Interior by our government since the invasion were being properly
tracked. In other words, hundreds of thousands of weapons (including
grenade launchers, machine guns, and assault rifles) could be anywhere
and in anyone's hands. Thereafter, in one of its last acts, the
Republican-controlled 109th Congress passed (and George Bush signed) a
military authorization bill that terminated the Office of the Special
Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

* The Bush
Administration launched a website called "Operation Iraqi Freedom
Document Portal" to propagate the argument that Saddam Hussein had, in
fact, been planning to build weapons of mass destruction. The launch
came over the objection of Director of National Intelligence John
Negroponte. The site was closed in November 2006 after International
Atomic Energy Agency officials complained that the documents on it went
beyond anything else that was publicly available in constituting a
basic guide to building an atomic bomb.

In sum, the Bush
Administration has an extensive record of mismanaging the “war on
terror.” Thus the question: “How many innocent people have been
tortured and killed by our government?”

We’ll never know, because the hidden nature of the interrogations and torture keep “bad decisions” from coming to light.

George
Bush should not have been put in the position of responsibility and
power that he has abused for almost seven years. But rather than dwell
on the past, let’s give practical application to the issues raised by
this article. Why not subject the Bush administration to the same
standard of “justice” that it has applied to others?

On July 9,
2007, George Bush invoked a claim of “executive privilege” in response
to requests for information by two Congressional committees that were
investigating the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys. More specifically, the
White House refused to comply with subpoenas for relevant documents and
blocked two presidential aides with knowledge related to the firings
from testifying before Congress.

Why bother with subpoenas and
lengthy court proceedings? Bring former Attorney General Alberto
Gonzalez before Congress and beat the information out of him.

Come
to think of it; Congress could impeach and convict the president and
vice president using the same process. Arrest Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.
Hold them incommunicato in a secret prison without access to a lawyer.
The pre-trial discovery would be enlightening. One can only begin to
imagine the wrongdoing that would be revealed after waterboarding,
sleep deprivation, and brutal beatings. The Bush Administration says
that these interrogation techniques are reserved for “high value”
detainees. But who’s more “high value” that George Bush and Dick
Cheney? We might even get some photographs of the president and vice
president nude on their hands and knees, each one with a dog collar
around his neck and a woman soldier holding the leash.

The
impeachment trial would be conducted in secret. As for the sentence;
given Dick Cheney’s much-publicized heart condition, he probably
wouldn’t make it that far. But Mr. Bush seems to be in pretty good
shape. Life imprisonment or the death penalty? What do you think?

Some
bleeding-heart liberals and card-carrying members of the American Civil
Liberties Union might find fault with interrogation and a trial of this
nature. But I’m sure that patriotic Americans wouldn’t object.

PS:
Words like “torture” and “beating” have become so common in usage that
we tend to read through them. They sanitize the violence. So let’s
think in terms of you, the reader. An interrogator punches you flush on
the tip of your nose, flattening it against your face. You still
haven’t told him what he wants to know. You might not even know it; but
he thinks you do. Or maybe he’s just a sadistic bastard. So he shoves
slivers of metal beneath your fingertips.

Hey; as Donald Rumsfeld blithely said about the mounting death toll in iraq: “Stuff happens.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com

(This article was originally published on secondsout.com, and kindly donated by Thomas Hauser to The Daily Banter.com)