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Morning Report 1/5/05Speeding Gonzales



The tsunami was a roaring wall of water so horrifyingly huge, sudden, and deadly that scientists didn’t have the time or inclination to name it after a human, as they do with hurricanes.

In its mournful wake you may hear another deadly sound that water makes, because Topical Storm Alberto is scheduled to hit Capitol Hill tomorrow morning (10 a.m. EST on C-SPAN). But you’ll have to listen closely, because this is the drip-drip-drip of water-boarding: “dripping water into a wet cloth over a suspect’s face, which can feel like drowning,” as Newsweek explained it last June 21.

This was a torture technique vetted by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Rumsfeld, Rove, Cheney, Feith, Gonzales. Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip.

George W. Bush. Drip.

The duke of hazards: Spoiled preppie Bush plays cowboy in Crawford (above), while his lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, produce the scariest memos (like the one excerpted below) giving him unbridled power to play cowboy in the rest of the world.
This passage concerning torture, in a March 2003 document unearthed by Newsweek, reads: “In light of the President’s complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the President’s ultimate authority in these areas.” Sure, I’d give Bush “complete authority” over tortured language—he’s the “ultimate authority.” But “complete authority” over torture? Are they crazy?

If the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are stand-up people, you’ll hear all about water-boarding. But you know that is in doubt, even though Arlen Specter is the new chairman of the panel, replacing Orrin Hatch. Specter is neither a neocon nor a theocon. He’s a former prosecutor, but not a Cromwellian one like John Ashcroft.

But here are some questions before the questions: What kind of deal did Specter make to get the coveted chairmanship? We know he caved on abortion, promising to at least not hold up Bush’s continuing appointment of partial, flat-Earth judges. Did Specter have to cave on the War of Terror, too?

Does he have the guts of an Elliot Richardson? Or is Specter going to be more like his fellow Pennsylvanian, Punxsutawney Phil?

Will Specter poke his head out tomorrow morning, see that the whole world is watching, and refuse to blink in the glare of the bright camera lights? Or will he scurry back into his burrow, assuring us four more years of shadowy government?

Is Specter another Bill Murray? Will this be a Groundhog Day to remember? Or did Wes Craven write this version, and the nightmare has no happy ending, only endless sequels?

The senators have before them all kinds of juicy evidence of craven behavior, plus the Bush regime’s tortured justifications for inflicting it.

See most of the material yourself at any of several excellent Web storehouses, among them the superb chronologies (with copious links to documents) maintained by Global Security and the Center for Public Integrity.)

Those sites could be your TV guide for tomorrow’s hearings. Painful to read, yes. But necessary. As for audio, some of the more blustery senators will be hard—I say, hard—to listen to. For real pain, however, particularly the kind that the documents call “mental torture,” nothing beats Bush—in every sense, apparently.

His actions (with Gonzales whispering helpful justifications in his ear) speak louder—and even more painfully—than his words.

Whether the public’s posse will be able to storm the executive ranch to rustle up some truth is another matter.

The other evening, a squadron of retired generals and admirals fired some volleys, but they weren’t targeting Bush directly. That job is best handled these days by a Roman Catholic nun. The latest writer to hogtie Bush is Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking), author of a brilliant essay in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books.

In “Death in Texas,” Sister Helen focuses on Bush’s goobernatorial reign in Texas as the most prolific hangman in American history.

Drawing on the great reporting work of Alan Berlow (as I and many others have), she parses the appeals of clemency made to the future president, who had factotum Gonzales at his side even then. The essay is part of Sister Helen‘s new book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

She also relates a delicious anecdote about now-dead Karla Faye Tucker that came courtesy of still-alive twit Tucker Carlson in the now-dead mag Talk in 1999. Here’s how Sister Helen tells it:

    In his autobiography, Bush claimed that the pending execution of Karla Faye Tucker “felt like a huge piece of concrete . . . crushing me.” But in an unguarded moment in 1999 while traveling during the presidential campaign, Bush revealed his true feelings to the journalist Tucker Carlson. Bush mentioned Karla Faye Tucker, who had been executed the previous year, and told Carlson that in the weeks immediately before the execution, Bianca Jagger and other protesters had come to Austin to plead for clemency for her. Carlson asked Bush if he had met with any of the petitioners and was surprised when Bush whipped around, stared at him, and snapped, “No, I didn’t meet with any of them.”

    Carlson, who until that moment had admired Bush, said that Bush’s curt response made him feel as if he had just asked “the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed.” Bush went on to tell him that he had also refused to meet Larry King when he came to Texas to interview Tucker but had watched the interview on television. King, Bush said, asked Tucker difficult questions, such as “What would you say to Governor Bush?”

    What did Tucker answer? Carlson asked.

    “Please,” Bush whimpered, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “please, don’t kill me.”

    Carlson was shocked. He couldn’t believe Bush’s callousness and reasoned that his cruel mimicry of the woman whose death he had authorized must have been sparked by anger over Karla Faye Tucker’s remarks during the [Larry] King interviews.

Pretty astounding that Bush would say something so cruel that it even made a sycophant like Carlson blanch.

I can’t believe Bush ever worked hard enough to develop any calluses. Rubbing coins together must have done it.

But the Bush regime has enough clever people around him to figure out how to do double-twist maneuvers. First, they tried to justify their use of torture. Now, in advance of the Gonzales hearing, they’re trying to justify their justification.

Their “pretzel logic” reminds me of the old Steely Dan album of that name. (Maybe Bush, who’s the right age, has that cassette cued up in his pickup’s stereo.) “Steely Dan” (in its original meaning, as an appetizer in Naked Lunch) reminds me of the instruments used on our prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

But it was the instruments wielded by the Becker-Fagen duo who took the name that gave us the song “Do It Again.” Which brings me to the W. Tong parody, “Smirk Blew It Again,” which was yet another futile attempt to keep Bush out of public office. Here’s a stanza:

    With no warnin’, Bush goes runnin’ on a plan to spoil our water

    We inquired and it’s stunnin’ ’bout colonias on the border

    Cutting corners in state programs, as we see him drag his feet

    But this hangman’s always hangin’, so this man deserves defeat, yeah

    That jerk, Smirk, blew it again.

    Deals turnin’ ’round and ’round

    That jerk, Smirk, blew it again

I prefer this Fagen to the Bush’s regime’s Fagins.

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