Saturday, February 20, 2010

A thousand words worth: Torture and Yoo

In the hoity-toity world of literary criticism, there is a term used to designate something sorta opposite to "cooptation." Not quite an antonym, it is difficult to pin its wiggly self to the stiff black stock paper upon which we display our dead insect pests.

Under glass.

To void a term.
To empty a term.
To suck a freaking term dry.

The thing is slimy, too, so we sometimes add vacuum suction to the volume of air (really mites, mosquito dander, one frizzy and split multicolored human hair, two hydrogen atoms, at least, and oxygen).

We hope to desiccate; We hope to be exceedingly tedious; Death to the term!

Sure, first we tried other things, less drastic, less noticeable -- but those wacky words! They remained in use.

Neonate. Nigger. Necromancer. Nazi. (And that's just *part* of the N-words. Must I follow my fellows and begin with A for Aborigines or go backward with a start at Zygote? Thanks, I didn't think so!)

Before bed last night, I did some wholesome reading over at this psychotic café of aborted thought. Of course, yes, it was a bad idea. Slap an X for Xenophobe on that sucker!

Actually, had it not been time to sleep -- wayyyyy past time to sleep -- I might have had a qualified appreciation for the site. My area of purported expertise is precisely in the relationship between image and word. So what if I am supposed to stay in the confines of eighteenth century French literature? Diderot got to walk right out of the frames and pages of his Salons... Why can't I?

I arrived at PsyWarrior's place via a search for a photograph. I was thinking about the impact that PBS made with its decision to air photos of United States casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. By the way, to make a study of it, this is a well thought out place to begin -- Media Literacy: Images of War. As even the term death is voided by some kind of human immunological protective response, the war of words continues, but illustrated. We are marvelously still concerned about what is polite, what is couth, and how-shall-we-hold-our-teacups, must-i-really-curtsy-to-the-queen?

Bill Moyers even got to wondering whether respect is something that we really ought to owe, and, of course, if so -- to whom is the debt, and what is the currency?

I discovered that I do not have it in me to research the nag, nag, nag in my head. As I began to explain above -- I landed at PsyWarrior in the course of searching for visual impact. I wanted a picture of Iraqi war dead, civilian and military -- something along the lines of the poster-like spread that many newspapers published of victims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- those nine long years ago.

Google search led me to a poster published on Herbert A. Friedman's blog on the history, means, and uses of psychological warfare. He claims that it was created by an antiwar group -- but that it was coopted by Iraqi propagandists who used it in ad campaigns against the United States.

[Aside: Man-O-Man, another term in the process of being vacated, voided? "American." I try to be aware of my wrong usages, and the Jeux-O do help to drive the point -- but jeez, what are we supposed to call citizens of the United States? What? "Citizens of the United States"? Cute, very cute. Too many characters. That would mean death to my 140-limit tweets. And uscit sounds too much like ocelot, God forbid I be the Author of Confusion.]

Okay, so he's just another asshole, retired. However, knowing something of military men, I presume him honorable, in some technical chapter-and-verse Rules of Engagement kind of way.

But I cannot find another source for the poster he published! It's driving moi batty. If you find it, would you please let me know? He requires that *his* permission be granted to reproduce the thing... and I am just not dressed for going out. I need to wash my hands first.

As usual, it matters -- how one gets from Point A to Point B. We'd like to stake a claim for linearity, and for that line to go from vague and uninformed to perfect intelligibility, for logic as wielded by philosophers.

But words, and pictures, are tricksters.

1885 illustration from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, captioned "Misto' Bradish's nigger"

After a steaming mug of coffee and a piece of whole wheat toast, I settled down to work a bit this morning, satisfied and sated, both.

The sun was shining, the sky was blue. I had a lot to do. If you're already humming "I read the news today, oh boy..." -- well, you must be one of My Beloved (but your demographics are safe with me!)

Report Faults 2 Authors of Bush Terror Memos
Published: February 19, 2010

WASHINGTON — After five years of often bitter internal debate, the Justice Department concluded in a report released Friday that the lawyers who gave legal justification to the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation tactics for terrorism suspects used flawed legal reasoning but were not guilty of professional misconduct.

The report, rejecting harsher sanctions recommended by Justice Department ethics lawyers, brings to a close a pivotal chapter in the debate over the legal limits of the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism and whether its treatment of Qaeda prisoners amounted to torture.

The ethics lawyers, in the Office of Professional Responsibility, concluded that two department lawyers involved in analyzing and justifying waterboarding and other interrogation tactics — Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge, and John C. Yoo, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley — had demonstrated “professional misconduct.” It said the lawyers had ignored legal precedents and provided slipshod legal advice to the White House in possible violation of international and federal laws on torture. That report was among the documents made public Friday.

But David Margolis, a career lawyer at the Justice Department, rejected that conclusion in a report of his own released Friday. He said the ethics lawyers, in condemning the lawyers’ actions, had given short shrift to the national climate of urgency in which Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo acted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Among the difficulties in assessing these memos now over seven years after their issuance is that the context is lost,” Mr. Margolis said.

Indeed, the documents released Friday provide new details about the atmosphere in which Mr. Yoo and the Justice Department prepared their initial findings in August 2002, shortly after the capture of Abu Zubaydah, suspected of being an operative for Al Qaeda.

The report quotes Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department lawyer involved in the review, as saying that because of the urgency of the situation, he had advised Mr. Bybee to sign the memorandum, despite what he saw as Mr. Yoo’s aggressive and problematic interpretation of the president’s broad commander-in-chief powers in trumping international and domestic law.

Mr. Philbin said that “given the situation and the time pressures, and they are telling us this has to be signed tonight — this was like 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock at night on the day it was signed — my conclusion” was that it was permissible for Mr. Bybee to sign the memorandum. “They” apparently referred to White House officials....

It has taken a couple of years, but I no longer react to Mr. Yoo's name by leaping, cursing, or baking bread. True, I do pause to wonder about the direction in which my alma mater has gone. And, yeah, okay, I do quickly search out succor here, and sweeten my memory with this, and cheer on the SF Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

But the fact, as they say, remains.

Yoo is still a professor in good standing. But now, by golly, I've planted so many asterisks after his name that he barely registers anymore on The Outrage Meter.

I've never made poppy seed bagels before, wish me luck!

{she pirouettes figures eight, nine, and ten -- into the kitchen -- toes taut, responsive, screaming damn:damn:damn}

Yoo, who?

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