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Tom Gilroy Headshot

With Beezlebub on our Side

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It’s the torture, Stupid.

If we can look up from the maze every once in a while before we hit the little lever that makes the cheese pop out, we may discover that all this talk of did Cheney know this, will Scooter be pardoned that, will Alito overturn Roe v. Wade, will Pat Robertson melt if doused with water on live TV---all of this matters little to the uncharged, unconvicted, undefended cab driver hanging from his ankles in Guatanamo Bay. I left out ‘starving’ and ‘sleep-deprived,’ but let’s not muddy this very polite and abstract political debate by mentioning ruptured organs, crushed vertebrae, being chained in a fetal position in a pool of your own shit and piss, or having electrodes clipped to your balls.

Let’s just keep it all polite so people like Joe Lieberman can seem patriotic, unbiased, and centrist. After all, we’re on the side of freedom and morality, so pulling out somebody’s fingernails is really an insignificant detail when you look at The Big Picture, which is of course hard to see when you’re hanging upside down in a hood and everything.

So let’s just say we’re having one of those moments of clarity that reformed alcoholics always speak about, where none of the details matter and suddenly The Big Picture all comes clear. Before we switch focus back again to the important things like Terrell Owens or Jennifer Aniston or the sale at Home Depot, let’s just sit in this moment of clarity here in the Land of the Free and think about this little issue in this little war we’re fighting with—as the President reminds us—God on our side.

Already humiliated on a international stage by candid photos of church-going GI’s leading naked detainees around on a leash—the logical outcome of following our Attorney General’s infamous torture memo dismissing the Geneva Conventions as ‘quaint’-- Our President announced to the world a week ago ‘we do not torture,’ at the very moment his vice president was making sure that, well, some of us can, and do, and will continue to.

Senator John McCain, a curious man who plays nice-nice with the very cut-throats who floated unfounded rumors about his supposed sexual infidelities so he’d lose the Republican primary, can speak from experience when he decries torture. He knows what it’s like to be inside that hood. I don’t, you don’t, Rumsfeld doesn’t, Cheney doesn’t, Bill O’Reilly doesn’t, Sean Hannitty doesn’t, and W doesn’t. But Senator McCain does.

So what does he do? He proposes a bill any sane American would call a no-brainer; since we’re the Paragon of Freedom, it just makes sense we’d join the rest of the planet and not only denounce torture, but refuse to engage in it. This was the idea behind those ‘quaint’ Nuremberg additions to the Geneva Conventions, and it might be instructive here to remember who the violators were in that debacle, you know—the last Western government that was openly pro-torture.

But the Nazis were Godless commies, and we’re so much better, what with God on our side and all, and Him having those little private chats with W, so really there’s no comparison.

So McCain states it in plain English for those of us God doesn’t have the time to chat with; moral people can’t do this, no matter what you call the victims—‘enemy combatants,’ ‘prisoners of war,’ or ‘terrorists.’ He utters perhaps the most morally astute quote of the W era-- ‘it’s not about what they are, it’s about who we are.’

Well, let’s use this moment of clarity to look at who we are. We’re the kind of people who torture.

Given the opportunity to assert what God-fearing people already know, that torture is the Devil’s work, did Congress unanimously pass McCain’s ‘no brainer’? No, they gutted it via ‘the Graham measure’ and gave the Vice President the torture loophole he was looking for.

Five of our ‘peacenik liberals’ sided with the lunatics in the majority who spout things like evolution is bunk, homosexuality is bestiality, and affirmative action is reverse racism, and gave 'the Graham measure' its margin of victory. Given the chance to look up from their George Lakoff books and say to themselves, ‘hmm, I don’t know, in my heart, something smells funny about this whole wallowing in your own piss and shit thingy,’ five of our leftist bleeding hearts okayed practices that would give Hitler a hard-on.

At a time when the Democrats are supposedly ‘on the march,’ we find five of them voting against a Republican who’s anti-torture. What does it tell you?

It tells you the labels of GOP and Democrat are bullshit, as are liberal and conservative, and this whole little exercise is a board game of PR and semantics. What matters in life—and more so in politics--is not what you say, not what you spin, not how you describe yourself, it’s what you do. And we torture.

Who needs ‘liberals’ like Lieberman, et al, when they plug in the electrode that Dick Cheney waves with glee?

So when we speak of change in 2008, let’s not let that mean the Democrats replace the Republicans; these labels are worthless. Let’s make it mean people who do what we believe in, and let’s start with torture. If they’re not against it, all the time, 24-7, in any case, against any person, well, they’re just not living up to the PR of what America—let alone Humanity and God—is supposed to be all about. If the person who wins the election supports torture, than nobody wins. Period.

This doesn’t mean voting for the opposition and it doesn’t mean not voting. It means starting right now to change your government into something that represents you. Voting is the last step of that process.

Look around you, at your town First Selectman/woman, the head of your school board, your lawyer, your butcher, your mail carrier. Would they value their political legacy over their innate moral conviction that torture is wrong? Would they play little rhetorical games about whether the fingernails are being ripped from the hand of a ‘prisoner of war’ or an ‘enemy combatant’?

If not, maybe they should run for office, and maybe you should help them, because clearly the career politicians are failing us. Because the only way we are not people who torture is if we don’t vote for people who say it’s okay to torture.

So Joe Lieberman of Connecticut? Out.
Kent Conrad of North Dakota? Out.
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana? Out.
Ben Nelson of Nebraska? Out.
Ron Wyden of Oregon? Out.

Let’s replace them with people who think about humanity instead of approval ratings and the sterile little board game of politics. Let’s replace them with people who believe in humane standards for all people whether God’s on their side or not.

Because if they have the strength of will to say no to torture, who knows? Maybe they’ll say no to gutting school spending or taking away your grandmother’s house via eminent domain so a private contractor can build a McMansion village. Maybe they’ll say no to Medicaid caps to underwrite tax cuts for the rich. Maybe they’ll say no to the weakening of EPA laws that prevents the factory upriver from dumping radioactive sludge into your drinking water.

Because right now, with God on our side and torture and black sites and extraordinary rendition going on in our and his name, I’m a little worried. What’s going to happen to me when Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman decide God isn’t on my side anymore?

And the little guy hanging upside down in the hood, is he wondering about the subtle difference between ‘enemy combatant’ and ‘prisoner of war’? Once his mind is obliterated of thoughts of his wife and kids, his childhood, his parents, his garden, his pets, his nationality, his humanity—is he thinking about whose side God is on?

Or is he thinking, ‘this is it, The End of Humanity. The gates of Hell have opened and the Devil’s spawn is on the march’?

You tell me.