Back to previous post: The secret engines of the world

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Actually, no

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

June 17, 2005

Witness, False, Bearing of
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:51 PM * 0 comments

Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. —Deuteronomy 5:20

Dearly beloved, we all recognize one of the Ten Commandments (the ninth, for those who are foggy on the subject). Those self-same commandments have been ordered removed from courthouses all over America lest they establish a religion. Yet who would have thought that the folks most determined in their campaign to remove the Ten Commandments from public life would be the far right?

Consider the addiction to taradiddles, lies, mendacity, and fibs in the upper reaches of the Bush administration. For one example let’s look at a bit from a commencement address delivered by Mark Danner this May:

Let me give you a last example. The example is in the form of a little play: a reality-based playlet that comes to us from the current center of American comedy. I mean the Pentagon press briefing room, where the real true-life comedies are performed. The time is a number of weeks ago. The dramatis personae are Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (and soon to be promoted) General Peter Pace of the Marine Corps; and of course, playing the Fool, a lowly and hapless reporter.

The reporter’s question begins with an involved but perfectly well-sourced discussion of Abu Ghraib and the fact that all the reports suggest that something systematic—something ordered by higher-ups—was going on there. He mentions the Sanchez memo, recently released, in which the commanding general in Iraq at the time, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, approved twelve interrogation techniques that, as the reporter says, “far exceed limits established by the Army’s own field manual.” These include prolonged stress positions, sensory deprivation (or “hooding”), the use of dogs “to induce stress,” and so on; the reporter also mentions “extraordinary rendition” (better known as kidnapping, in which people are snatched off the streets by U.S. intelligence agents and brought to third countries like Syria and Egypt to be tortured). Here’s his question, and the officials’ answer:

Hapless Reporter: And I wonder if you would just respond to the suggestion that there is a systematic problem rather than the kinds of individual abuses we’ve heard of before.

Secretary Rumsfeld: I don’t believe there’s been a single one of the investigations that have been conducted, which has got to be six, seven, eight or nine—

General Pace: Ten major reviews and 300 individual investigations of one kind or another.

Secretary Rumsfeld: And have you seen one that characterized it as systematic or systemic?

General Pace: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: I haven’t either.

Hapless Reporter: What about—?

Rumsfeld: Question?


And, as the other reporters laughed, Secretary Rumsfeld did indeed ignore the attempt to follow up, and went on to the next question.

But what did the hapless reporter want to say? All we have is his truncated attempt at a question: “What about—?” We will never know, of course. Perhaps he wanted to read from the very first Abu Ghraib report, directed by US Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who wrote in his conclusion

“that between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility, numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted….This systemic and illegal abuse was intentionally perpetrated….[Emphasis added.]
Or perhaps this from the Red Cross report, which is the only contemporaneous account of what was going on at Abu Ghraib, recorded by witnesses at the time:
“These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information or other forms of co-operation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an “intelligence value. [Emphasis added.]
(I should note here, by the way, that the military itself estimated that between 85 and 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib had “no intelligence value.”)

Between that little dramatic exchange—

Rumsfeld: And have you seen one that characterized it as systematic or systemic?

General Pace: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: I haven’t either—

—and the truth, there is a vast gulf of lies. For these reports do use the words “systematic” and “systemic”—they are there, in black and white—and though the reports have great shortcomings, the truth is that they tell us basic facts about Abu Ghraib: first, that the torture and abuse was systematic; that it was ordered by higher-ups, and not carried out by “a few bad apples,” as the administration has maintained; that responsibility for it can be traced—in documents that have been made public—to the very top ranks of the administration, to decisions made by officials in the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense and, ultimately, the White House. The significance of what we know about Abu Ghraib, and about what went on—and, most important, what is almost certainly still going on—not only in Iraq but at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and other military and intelligence bases, some secret, some not, around the world—is clear: that after September 11, shortly after you all came to Berkeley, our government decided to change this country from a nation that officially does not torture to one, officially, that does.

I suppose that if one is willing to order torture that subsequently lying about it is no great thing. But while torture is not forbidden by the Ten Commandments, lying is.

(Torture is later forbidden by the Great Commandment, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, but that hasn’t been posted in, nor removed from, courthouses so far as I’m aware.)

What is this addiction to lies? Does the administration think that if the American people knew what was really going on that they would reject it?

From the Washington Post:

On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government’s success in prosecuting terrorists.

Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that “federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.”

Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government’s efforts against terrorism.

But the numbers are misleading at best.

Misleading at best? Of lies, damned lies, and statistics, Bush’s statement partakes of all three.

The article continues:

An analysis of the Justice Department’s own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people—not 200, as officials have implied—were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Thirty-nine. Not two hundred. An order of magnitude.

In the end, most cases on the Justice Department list turned out to have no connection to terrorism at all.

They include Hassan Nasrallah, a Dearborn, Mich., man convicted of credit-card fraud who has the same name as the leader of Hezbollah, or Party of God. Abdul Farid of High Point, N.C., was arrested on a false tip that he was sending money to the Taliban and was deported after admitting he lied on a loan application. Moeen Islam Butt, a Pakistani jewelry-kiosk employee in Pennsylvania, spent eight months in jail before being deported on marriage-fraud and immigration charges.

And there is the case of Francois Guagni, a French national who made the mistake of illegally crossing the Canadian border on Sept. 14, 2001, with box cutters in his possession. It turned out that Guagni used the knives in his job as a drywall installer. He was deported in March 2003 after pleading guilty to unlawfully entering the country.

“His case had nothing to do with terrorism, as far as I’ve ever been told,” said Guagni’s attorney, Christopher D. Smith.

How does this harm us, for Bush to claim two hundred when he really means thirty-nine? It gives the people a false sense of security. Two hundred convictions out of four hundred cases with a 50% conviction rate is an active and effective counter-terrorism effort moving through the courts where it belongs.

Thirty-nine convictions out of four hundred cases is blundering around; either there isn’t a large group of al Qaeda sleeper cells in the USA, or if there is we’re missing them.

Let’s look at the FBI protecting us from a suicide bomber.

As reported in the New York Times:

DHAKA, Bangladesh—Slumped at the edge of the bed she would have to share with four relatives that night, the 16-year-old girl from Queens looked stunned.

On the hot, dusty road from the airport, she had watched rickshaws surge past women sweeping the streets, bone-thin in their bright saris. Now, in a language she barely understood, unfamiliar aunts and uncles lamented her fate: to be forced to leave the United States, her home since kindergarten, because the F.B.I. had mysteriously identified her as a potential suicide bomber.

“I feel like I’m on a different planet,” the girl, Tashnuba Hayder, said. “It just hit me. How everything happened—it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

The reasoning is this: Some suicide bombers are teenaged females. Tashnuba Hayder is a teenage female. Therefore….

In a way I can understand it: Once official notice is taken of an individual, and it’s officially noticed that her immigration papers aren’t in order (actually, not her papers; her mother’s—she’s a minor child), the law will deport her.

And it’s understandable that she would come to official notice: She listened to Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed. First Amendment, meet Bush’s America.

The alarm bells are going off,” said Mr. D’Amuro, now the chief executive of Giuliani Security and Safety, a consulting company. “And we have each and every time to run those threats to the ground, whether it ends up to be a bogus threat or proceeds to some type of prosecutorial action.”

Some cases are never resolved, he added. Even when suspicions prove unfounded, he said, any visa violations are already in the hands of immigration authorities, who have to bring them “to some type of closure.”

But Mike German, who left the [FBI] a year ago after a long career chasing homegrown terror suspects, said that the agency’s new emphasis on collecting intelligence rather than criminal evidence has opened the door to more investigations that go “in the wrong direction.”

It’s a good thing that Abu Ghraib-style questioning hasn’t yet caught on in this country, or Ms. Hayder undoubtedly would have confessed anything Homeland Security wanted. Then they might have had forty terrorism convictions, not just thirty-nine.

There are worse things than sharing a bed with relatives in a country where you don’t speak the language. You could be in Gitmo.

That’s the entire point of Gitmo, just as terror was the entire point of the Soviet gulags.

A conversation between a Siberian prisoner and a new convict:

“How long did you get?”

“Ten years.”

“What did you do?”


“Impossible! For nothing you only get five years!”


In the time of Stalin’s mass purges, a knock at the door woke a family in the middle of night. All family members, shaking in terror, jumped up.

“Take all you can carry with you, and get out at once,” a voice sounded. “But, for God’s sake, don’t panic! It’s me, your neighbour. It is nothing serious, just our house is on fire.”

Speaking of which, you can get I [heart] GITMO tee shirts. Maybe the interrogators will go easier on you after you’ve been denounced by an anonymous source if you’re wearing one when you get there.

Or maybe not.

Back to Bush fibbing:

WASHINGTON (AP)—Amid new questions about President Bush’s drive to topple Saddam Hussein, several House Democrats urged lawmakers on Thursday to conduct an official inquiry to determine whether the president intentionally misled Congress.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and a half-dozen other members of Congress were stopped at the White House gate when they hand-delivered petitions signed by 560,000 Americans who want Bush to provide a detailed response to the so-called Downing Street memo.

At a public forum where the word “impeachment” loomed large earlier in the day, Exhibit A was the Downing Street memo, a prewar document leaked from inside the British government to The Sunday Times of London a month and a half ago.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, organized the event.

Recounting a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s national security team, the memo says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.

“The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” one of the participants was quoted as saying at the meeting, which took place just after British officials returned from Washington.

The president “may have deliberately deceived the United States to get us into a war,” Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said. “Was the president of the United States a fool or a knave?”

A fool, a knave, or a compulsive liar? As John says (1 John 2:4) “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. —Deuteronomy 5:22

Comments on Witness, False, Bearing of:
Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.