The normalization of horror
A new documentary, “Hitler’s Hit Parade,” runs 76 minutes without narration. Comprised entirely of archival footage, the film prompts its reviewers to remark upon Hannah Arendt’s famous observation about the banality of evil. German troops subjugated Europe and shoved millions of people into ovens; German civilians went to the movies, attended concerts, and gossiped about their neighbors. People lived mundane, normal lives while their government carried out unspeakable monstrosities.Sound familiar?As Congress prepared to rubber-stamp the nomination of torture aficionado Alberto Gonzales as the nation’s chief prosecutor, the Washington Post broke news that would have torn a saner nation apart. The Bush administration, the paper reported Jan. 2, is no longer planning to keep hundreds of Muslim prisoners currently rotting away in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram merely “indefinitely.” The Defense Department and CIA are now planning “a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions” for these innocents.We’re locking them up forever. Without due process.Before gangsters like Alberto Gonzales seduced us into abandoning our values, a person was considered innocent before being proven guilty. Now we’re locking people away because “the government does not have enough evidence to charge [them] in courts.” And everyone, including Democrats, is OK with this.Untold thousands of people are being held without charges, tortured and occasionally murdered in the system of gulags hastily strung together by the CIA, FBI, INS and Pentagon. According to the government itself, only a few dozen are former al-Qaida officials. Most of these postmodern misérables were farmers, truck drivers, grunt militiamen and political enemies sold into bondage by Afghan warlords and similarly trustworthy souls for cash bounties on a no questions asked basis. We know they have no ties to terrorism, but they’ve already spent years getting beaten up. Releasing them would serve as a tacit admission that we were wrong to describe them as – in Dick Cheney’s words – “the worst of the worst.” They would sue our government, and eventually win. Worst of all, they have unpleasant tales to tell about systemic sodomy and countless other forms of horrific taxpayer-funded abuse. We can never let them out.Bush plans to divide U.S. concentration camp victims into two groups. One set of “lifers” will end up in U.S.-run stalags like Gitmo’s new Camp 6, built to hold 200 “detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, according to defense officials.” But not to worry: Camp 6 would “allow socializing among inmates.”Others captured in the “war on terrorism” will be outsourced “to third countries willing to hold them indefinitely and without proceedings” in foreign-run gulags that pledge to make victims available for torture by American interrogators. This practice, some claim, is “an effective method of disrupting terrorist cells and persuading detainees to reveal information.””The threat of sending someone to one of these countries [where they are likely to be tortured] is very important,” said Rohan Gunaratna, author of “Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror.”But the so-called “ticking time bomb” rationale for torture is patently fallacious. We’ve heard the scenario repeatedly: wouldn’t it be worth torturing someone who knew the location of a nuclear bomb that was about to destroy Manhattan? The short answer, to a moral person, is obviously no. Moreover, its logic is ludicrous.Suppose we had captured Osama bin Laden on 9/10 and immediately gone to work on him with our Alberto Gonzales-approved psychotropic drugs and our Alberto Gonzales-approved “waterboard” dunking technique. It wouldn’t take long for Osama’s pals to notice that he’d failed to show up at the Terrorcave. They’d assume that we had him and were torturing him. They’d assume that he’d tell us everything he knew. So they’d delay 9/11 to 10/11 or 11/12 or 9/11/02. Or go to Plan B. Or develop a Plan C. No one in an underground organization, not even its top leader, is indispensable. Arrests are inconvenient, not debilitating.The information a person possesses at the moment of his capture ages like a ripe cheese in hot sun. Even if what he told you at the beginning was true, anything you’d get out of him days and weeks and months and years later would be completely worthless.Wait a minute.Look at what we’re talking about. Consider the breezy way we Americans – Americans! – are debating the pros and cons of torture. Marvel at our moral bankruptcy. The liberal argument against torture used to be that it was wrong. Now it’s that it doesn’t work.So.Read any good books lately?Ted Rall, a New York City resident, is a columnist and cartoonist who writes for a generation unjustly maligned as a group of lazy slackers. Contact him at 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111. His column appears every Tuesday in The Aspen Times.
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Milias: The dilemma in Aspen’s workforce housing is that it houses few of the workforce, and that must be acknowledged before it can be improved.