When it comes to political theater, one of the most popular stages in the world is Washington, D.C. where everyone is a willing actor with a designated part to play. And what can match a well-timed production starring some seasoned actors in a smartly-scripted drama played out before a captive global audience, especially when the script involves secret prisons, tortures and so-called justice?
In the past few weeks, we've watched as president Bush suddenly admitted the existence of CIA run prisons in other countries where at least 14 'high-level' alleged terrorism suspects have been held and treated to so-called 'alternative methods' of interrogation which the president simply refers to as 'the program' while bragging about all of the supposed evidence they've been coerced into revealing. And, since that time, he has made several public appearances in which he has aggressively called for his Republican congress to push through controversial legislation dealing with their rights and their treatment at the hands of his surrogate torturers.
Why did all of this happen now?
Beginning back in January, Karl Rove announced
that the theme for Republicans to run on this November was national security - the platform that has worked successfully for them since 9/11. So how, in the face of growing public dissent to the Iraq war which Bush had deemed to be the 'central front' on the so-called war on terrorism, could the Republicans regain the high ground? They needed a quick and dirty strategy that would grab nation-wide headlines long enough to place them back on top after the Supreme Court issued what was seen as a major public admonishment to the Bush administration with its Hamdan decision
The detainees in Gitmo have been waiting for justice for years and the ghost prisoners had been hidden away from any public curiousity as to their fate as well. There was no rush in this administration, no timetable set by the Supreme Court, to try these prisoners. But, no doubt, Rove and his political machine saw an opportunity to fulfill three goals:
1. to get congress to pass detainee legislation that suited the executives purposes.
2. to deal publicly and quickly with the issue of torture while providing cover for the actual torturers.
3. to end up looking tough on terrorism, thereby boosting their election results while taking the focus off of the mounting daily death tolls in Iraq.
With Rumsfeld and Cheney coming out from the shadows to staunchly accuse the Democrats of appeasing terrorists and Bush staging a mea culpa on the secret CIA prisons issue, the scene was set for a little political wrangling. Bush, taking the 'hang 'em high' tough cowboy stance announced that his office intended to rewrite Article 3 of the Geneva conventions - a brash and bold move sure to catch the world's attention and that of the American voters. Right on cue, three Republicans with former military experience - Warner, McCain and Graham - all appeared on stage to calm down the unreasonable sheriff and to get him to listen to reason.
What resulted, in the midst of this showy climax, was a meeting between the apparently hot-headed parties that was meant to bring about what all audiences want: a happy ending. And, if you only gauge the various excited reactions
in Republican circles, you'd think that's exactly what happened. And, perhaps, if you're a typical American citizen who only pays attention to headlines and soundbites, the picture you're left with is one of a divided Republican effort that has now been resolved as they'll now hurry to pass the detainee legislation before they set out on the campaign trail while feeling secure that your government and president have your national security at heart.
But, it's just not that simple.
The legislation weakens international rape laws
, does not repeal the use of torture by the CIA (providing the torturers with immunity from prosecution), gives Bush the sole power to define extreme torture
and withholds classified evidence from detainees. And all of this is set to be approved by a Republican rubber-stamp congress in which 'fewer than 10 percent of the members of Congress have been told which interrogation techniques have been used in the past, and none of them know which ones would be permissible under proposed changes to the War Crimes Act.'
And where have all of the congressional Democrats been during this stage play? Sitting back and watching just like the rest of us. I hope they enjoyed the popcorn.
Did anyone really think that McCain and Warner would seriously challenge their president? John Warner has always been a staunch Bush defender and the so-called 'maverick' John McCain, despite his public spats with Bush over torture issues, has always acquiesced to what his president and his party wants. Lindsey Graham may be seen as a dupe in all of this but we musn't forget that all of these Republicans are keenly aware of one thing: the seriousness of the threat posed by Democrats who are fighting hard to take back congress in November. And, in that context, they all played their parts well.
If there were Oscars handed out for political theater, all three would be nominated. And, since the the play is done, the rest of us are just expected to leave our seats now that the end of that perfected Rovian performance is at hand while we walk away feeling a bit dirtier for having sat through such a dastardly display of deception and deceit while we wonder if, at this very moment, the torturers are still at work somewhere in a distant secret prison 'protecting' America's so-called national security with the endorsement of these fiends.
How did you enjoy the show?