How to Pry the Truth out of Congressmen

The Los Angeles Times ran a piece of mine today on fair play for our elected representatives.  Online here (registration required?) and following:

Modest Proposal: Waterboard Congress

Maybe White House-favored interrogation techniques would coax lawmakers to tell the truth about U.S. anti-terror policies.

By James Bovard

JAMES BOVARD is the author, most recently, of “Attention Deficit Democracy” (2006).

August 27, 2006

IN RESPONSE to the Supreme Court’s June decision in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Bush administration has proposed a new Enemy Combatant Military Commissions Act. If passed by Congress, this act would revolutionize American jurisprudence.

The White House wants military tribunals hearing the cases of terrorism suspects to be able to use “coerced” confessions. As Acting Asst. Atty. Gen. Steven Bradbury helpfully assured Congress last month, “there are gradations of coercion much lower than torture.”

Because many in the administration and Congress feel strongly that coerced confessions constitute the “best practice” to get truth from people suspected of bad things, then, under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, American citizens should be permitted to use the same method to pry the truth out of their elected representatives.

One such method is waterboarding: strapping someone to a board and pushing him underwater to make him feel like he’s drowning. Since then-CIA Director Porter Goss assured Congress last year that this was a “professional interrogation method,” not torture, citizens should be permitted to bring splintery planks, leather straps and water tanks to expedite discussions with any member of Congress who continues to insist that things are going swimmingly for the U.S. military in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has during his tenure approved the use of a dozen extreme interrogation methods above and beyond those previously permitted by the Pentagon, including, but not limited to, hooding, disrobing, placing detainees in stress positions and exploiting their “fear of dogs.” When the resulting Abu Ghraib photos leaked out in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared that he was more “outraged by the outrage” than by the actual evidence of detainee abuse.

So: Inhofe should be blindfolded, put in a straitjacket and left in a room full of crazed chihuahuas until he explains why he believes that the U.S. military should not be constrained to follow the laws of the land, such as the Anti-Torture Act.

The iconic photo from the Bush/Rumsfeld interrogation era is that of the Iraqi detainee covered in a shroud, standing on a box, with wires attached to his body. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spearheaded the coverup of the CIA’s use of secret prisons throughout Eastern Europe, so he could stand on his own box wired to an electric charge until confessing why he believes that the Geneva Convention prohibition on making detainees “disappear” is null and void.

Exposure to extreme cold and heat is another method routinely used by U.S. interrogators. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has been the biggest Democratic apologist for Abu Ghraib in the Senate, so perhaps he could be strapped to a block of ice until he explains how using “coercion” helps the United States win hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

Public interrogations of elected representatives should use the same rules Bush favors for tribunals — anyone could make an anonymous accusation against a congressman, and congressmen would be prohibited from seeing or cross-examining their accusers. Secret evidence could be allowed, even if it (or the “secret” being protected) failed the laugh test. We cannot let old-fashioned due-process rigamarole impede our pursuit of the truth.

Some people may object, contending that waterboarding congressmen will tarnish the dignity of democracy. But this is rather quaint, considering everything Congress has already rubber-stamped.

Besides, politicians are not being coerced to approve the use of coerced confessions, so they still have time to avoid reaping what they sow.



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25 Responses to How to Pry the Truth out of Congressmen

  1. John Lowell August 27, 2006 at 11:33 am #

    Passage of the Enemy Combatant Military Commissions Act would mark the final descent of our republic into a kind of National Socialism with concentration camps sure to follow. The one achievement of Bush’s so-called “War on Terror” has been its utter sabotaging of America’s moral identity. And with any hope for change resting on a Democratic victory in November, one is sobered to learn today that Tom Lantos plans to block funds for relief of the Israeli terror bombing of Lebanon. One way or another, the tethering of our foreign policy to the imagined interests of Israel results in the emulation of both the secret police practices and the Likudist mentality there. The lessons of the Holocaust would appear most regrettably lost on many of its most prominent survivors.

  2. Jim August 27, 2006 at 1:43 pm #

    I don’t know that concentration camps are sure to follow the passage of this act. But it would be another giant step towards codifying official barbarism.

    Lantos’ concern for the victims of Lebanon is touching. I have been surprised that the media kowtows to almost anything he says (similar to the treatment that John McCain receives).

  3. DrFix August 27, 2006 at 2:35 pm #

    “The camps boss…the camps!”….

    Halliburton is already hard at work making that a reality. With an executive who doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks why should we be surprised.

  4. Jim August 27, 2006 at 5:21 pm #

    I suppose the only consolation at times like this is that we have an Attorney General who took an oath to make sure the government doesn’t violate the Constitution.

  5. Ryan August 27, 2006 at 5:32 pm #


    I detect some tongue in cheek sarcasm with your comment regarding our esteem A.G. Such a slender reed to put our hopes upon!

  6. Jim August 27, 2006 at 6:12 pm #

    Me? Sarcasm?

    Thomas Carlyle said that “sarcasm is the language of the devil.”

    Just one more subject on which that surly Scottish theologian was wrong.

  7. Billy Boy August 27, 2006 at 6:40 pm #

    Concentration camps …..

    They never left. They are called prisons.

    The U.S. has the highest number of incarcerated individuals.

    The only way to stop the cancer is by starving it. Maybe we should trim our ‘law enforcement’s budgets, say, by 50%. Redirect the money towards Pell Grants.

  8. soldier143 August 27, 2006 at 9:24 pm #

    And soon this shiny new police state will fall into the hands of the democrats (which might explain their complicity). When that happens we’ll take great delight in seeing the right wing pundits hauled off for a dose of their own medicine… and then it’ll be our turn.

  9. kirk hayes August 28, 2006 at 6:15 am #

    One good turn (of the arm in the socket) deserves another. See if they like it.

    Kirk A. Hayes

  10. lawhobbit August 28, 2006 at 10:38 am #

    I can’t believe you’d imply that disrobing would be acceptable – I mean, is there really any member of Congress you’d want to see naked? Who’s being tortured if that happens, huh? Who’s gonna bell that cat?

  11. Patty August 28, 2006 at 11:11 am #

    The majority of Americans have given up their rights. The government has so much power now in this country, they can bend people to do their bidding at any time. The Supreme Court lets Bush and his cohorts walk all over the Constitution until you can’t recognize it anymore. Ig they get this latest bill through Congress where they can use any method they want to interrogate war criminals, how long do you think it will take them to justify using it on anyone they want to? This country’s run of being a Republic is over with. We were never suppose to be a Democracy, democracy is where the rich run the poor and that’s what we’ve had for a very long time now. So you can forget the kind of government and way of life you feel you should have, you’ll never see it and neither will I ever again. At least I’m in my mid-sixties and will probably be dead before things get to be too, too bad. I cry many tears for the young who we have nothing even approaching freedom left to leave them.

  12. Jim August 28, 2006 at 11:19 am #

    Lawhobbit – I was merely listing some of the “interrogation methods” that Rumsfeld approved.

    I completely agree with you regarding the aesthetics of this issue.

    There are other interrogation methods that are much more likely to get the truth without inflicting collateral damage on the American people.

  13. camus August 28, 2006 at 11:25 am #

    i have been thinking for a while now that we should waterboard Cheney, Rummy, Rove…..imagine what interesting,sick truths we would discover…When one ponders the fact that 70-90 % of those we have tortured are COMPLETELY INNOCENT of anything, it really is no moral stretch to condone, edorse, enjoy watching the truly evil gander get what was good for the goose. Also, remember treason during war is punishable by death……bring back the guillotine….now thats reality TV that will truly be “must see”

  14. D. Saul Weiner August 28, 2006 at 11:45 am #

    George Sr. offered a vision of kinder and gentler government?

    Sure many of us were skeptical, but how many of us could predict that one day his son would unveil kinder and gentler torture?

  15. Jim August 28, 2006 at 12:51 pm #

    D. Saul Weiner – yes, and many neoconservatives and other laptop bombardiers are perhaps disappointed that the fatality rate from US interrogations has not been higher.

    The arguments around the US govt torture policy since mid 2004 are a fascinating snapshot of the rising support for barbarism.

  16. Jim August 28, 2006 at 12:54 pm #

    If anyone is interested in a whole heap more information & analysis of the torture scandal, the longest chapter in my Attention Deficit Democracy (Palgrave 2006)deals with that subject.

  17. Pero Ristow August 28, 2006 at 1:05 pm #

    When I see what is happening in once proud democracy, I am so happy I have expatriated myself with my family to Europe.
    I thought I pledged allegiance to the George Washington’s Republic but it turned out to be to the AIPAC.
    Here, nobody is forcing on us ideas of hating Arabs, Iranians or Muslims in general. The constant talk about the necessity of War comes only from Israel,America and Blair Britain – three rogues par excellence. There is no religious delirium about a crap like Armageddon.
    We are observing anglo-american hysteria with a strong feeling of what Spaniards call- “verguenza ajena”-a feeling of shame for what somebody related to you has done.

  18. M. Riley August 28, 2006 at 1:55 pm #

    I got one better. All alleged terrorist plots or plotters that are charged or under investigation that are found to be either without foundation, 99% of them in all probability, will be released, apologised to by the government officials that crowed the most about their arrests or investigation. That is before the officials are arrested and sent to prison for the same terms that they would have sent the alledged terrorist plotters. This would of course include the top officials as well as all the sundry other officials or pundits that love to try to out lie each other to make the best press and worst case for the alledged plotters. This of course would exempt “real” plots where there actually is evidence and not just braggers, or big talkers and dreamers. BTW if we arrested all the braggers, big talkers and dreamers we would already eliminate all the bad leaders of the present politicians and pundits.

  19. Vaughn August 28, 2006 at 2:14 pm #

    Mr. Bovard,

    Regarding your comment about AG Gonzales and his oath of office – a snippet from an article this weekend about Richard Armitage and his role in the Valarie Plame matter caught my eye.

    “Taft asked if Gonzales wanted to know the details. The president’s lawyer, playing the case by the book, said no, and Taft told him nothing more.”

    This event predates his appointment as AG – but certainly provides an insight into his character (or lack thereof).

    “by the book” – must be the same book those mafia lawyers use!

  20. Jim August 28, 2006 at 2:21 pm #

    Vaughn – perhaps Gonzales’s goal for day to day policy is “Plausible Deniability.”

    The analogy to mafia lawyers may be apt – but I suspect that some mafia lawyers are a helluva lot sharper than Gonzales.

    On the other hand, Bush hires for loyalty, not brains.

  21. Risto August 28, 2006 at 2:45 pm #

    Deucland Deutchland Über alles
    Today USA in a one Fucking NAZIREICH.
    Enforcing “freedom and democracy” and American values with open state Terrorism like we have seen in Lebanon and hidden Economical warfare like Cuban’s know by 46 years within their skins. Your Führer has told to everyone he’s new born cristian man. When i look what YOUR FÜHRER has accomplished after winning two wotercounting after losing both elections he truly looks more like true SATAN WORSHIPPER AND MURDERER than enything else. One positive thing is that the true face of Yankee NAZIREICH is now plain to see everyone who can look at world with open eyes. Before Bush,Cheney and Rowe became FÜHRER’S of AMERICAN NAZIREICH by stealing two elections i was against the capital punishment.
    Now i see things differently. Even holy bible says following. If you forgive wrongdoings of a goddles person in a land of justice he will commit crimes and injusctices. If we want a world to be safe place for our children where they can live good and decent lifes, it’s going to be absofuckinglutely impossible to accomplish that as long as truly ungodly evildoers as Bushes Nazijunta of evildoers, murderers and rapist whose only true religion is money live among us.
    The sooner the world get’s rid of selfrighteus Yankee Nazireich the better future will be for generations not yet born. Fortunately I am living in scandinavia. It’s safe to live here because my country don’t belong to Nato. And we haven’t participated “peacekeeping” operations like bringing “freedom and democracy” to Iraq. So poor people in third world have no reasons to hate us.

  22. Jim August 28, 2006 at 3:39 pm #

    No grammarcheckers in Finnish software, eh?

  23. Mario August 29, 2006 at 6:24 pm #


  24. Tom Blanton August 29, 2006 at 10:43 pm #

    This waterboarding thing sounds like big fun. Republicrat frat boys should find it especially refreshing when their feet are held to the fire.

    I’ve decided to revoke my proposal to require candidates in the 2008 presidential debates to have lie detectors with an on-screen readout scroll. I now propose that the 2008 debates should be one big waterboarding party. Throw in some Surftones or Ventures as the candidates “hang ten” and you’d have some groovy entertainment.

    Add a wet t-shirt contest for prospective first ladies to really juice things up. Surf’s up, dude!

    Maybe for the VP debate, moderators could pitch softballs at a target to dunk the clown.

  25. Zardo August 30, 2006 at 7:26 am #

    Ugly Americans? Why not just… Barbericans.