More Important Than Boxing

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

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)

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.