How Low Will GOP Go?

A few months ago I got cable TV installed in my office so I could monitor the "news" channels while I work. I knew better than to switch on Fox News but I tried keeping CNN on in the background. Still, one day the inanity got to me and I started yelling at the TV. My baritone outburst startled our dogs, who are accustomed to a placid life when they are not out chasing squirrels or other varmints. I had to coax our easily-startled Shelty mix to come out from under a chair.

Thank goodness I wasn't in the press gallery of the Senate committee room when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., dismissed the outrage over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US troops. "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," Inhofe bloviated during the May 11 hearing on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He surmised that the Iraqis depicted in widely broadcast photographs probably had "blood on their hands." He ignored Red Cross and Army estimates that 70% to 90% were innocents who were caught up in dragnets.

A few Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain. R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., disassociated themselves from Inhofe's "blame the victim" outburst. "When you are the good guys, you've got to act like the good guys," Graham said. But incredibly other Republicans saw the opportunity to demagog the Democrats as soft on terror because the foolish Dems wanted the US to follow its own laws as well as international treaties.

Then we found out that the Bush administration had been drafting legal memos trying to define how far they could push "aggressive interrogation techniques" before they crossed the line into torture. The government lawyers basically decided that the president was not bound by US laws or international agreements prohibiting torture and that Americans committing torture under his authority can't be prosecuted. Whatever the president said was OK was legal. Never mind Geneva, never mind Nuremberg. Never mind the Constitution.

Republicans who a few years ago impeached a Democratic president in a dispute over whether fellatio was sex now were bending the definition of torture to excuse the use of sodomy and attack dogs in controlling Iraqi prisoners.

Some Republicans criticized Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., for holding hearings on the abuse of prisoners. US Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said the Senate committee was "basically driving the story" of prisoner abuse. Hunter chided Warner for focusing on the abuses and for calling in military leaders from Iraq to testify.

Hunter, who held a private hearing and one public briefing on the issue, rejected demands by some House members for their own public hearings on the prison abuse. He also refused an offer from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to testify before the House committee. Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, also said the publicity over the prison abuses may endanger US soldiers and distract from the war effort.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said physical abuse may be warranted if it saves American lives. "Frankly, to save some American troops' lives or a unit that could be in danger, I think you should get really rough with them," Lott told a Jackson, Miss., TV station. He said there was nothing wrong with a prisoner being threatened with a dog, "unless it ate him." Lott was reminded that at least one prisoner had died at the hands of his captors after a beating. "This is not Sunday school," he replied. "This is interrogation. This is rough stuff."

The same party line played out over the GOP talk shows (at least according to websites that monitor them, such as fair.org and mediamatters.org, and trusty blogs). Meanwhile, it turned out the torturers seldom, if ever, turned up useful information.

Then the 9/11 Commission staff reported it found "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein helped al Qaeda plan and train for attacks against the US, debunking claims the White House has been making to justify the war since before it was launched in March 2003.

Vice President Dick Cheney has continued to insist that Saddam "had long-established ties with al Qaeda." He said so in a June 14 speech, despite doubts of intelligence officials and Middle East experts.

Bush on June 15 defended Cheney's statement. He said the presence of Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq is "the best evidence'' of Iraq's ties to al Qaeda. Bush failed to note that Zarqawi was operating in an area of northern Iraq that was outside Hussein's control.

On June 16, after the 9/11 Commission debunked the Saddam-al Qaeda link, White House press secretary Scott McClellan defended the president's previous comments. ''What we've always said is that Saddam Hussein's regime harbored and supported terrorists,'' he said.

In fact they have gone much further.

On Oct. 7, 2002, in a televised, primetime speech on the threat from Iraq, Bush said: "We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. ... We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists."

Bush used the pretext of a Saddam-al Qaeda link in a letter to Congress on March 19, 2003 -- the day the war in Iraq began. Bush wrote that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sept. 14, 2003, ''I think it's not surprising that people make that connection'' between Saddam and Sept. 11. Asked if there was a connection, Cheney replied, "We don't know." But he then went on to suggest a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in 1993 as well as a possible, if unknown, role in 9/11.

Eric Alterman, whose book, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, is due out in September quotes Ben Bradlee saying, "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face." Alterman noted in his June 21 "Altercation" column for msnbc.msn.com the following exchange from CNBC's Capital Report for June 17:

Gloria Borger: "Well, let's get to Mohammed Atta for a minute, because you mentioned him as well. You have said in the past that it was quote, "pretty well confirmed."

Vice President Cheney: "No, I never said that."


CHENEY: "Never said that."

BORGER: "I think that is ..."

CHENEY: Absolutely not.

Now see the transcript, NBC's Meet the Press, Dec. 9, 2001:

CHENEY: "It's been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April."

Turns out it was not confirmed. Cheney was lying. Bush was lying. We were buffaloed into a war based on lie after lie.

When Bill Clinton lied, the only victim was a blue dress but Congress impeached him. When George W. Bush lied, thousands of Iraqis were killed, more than 800 Americans already have lost their lives, thousands more GIs are wounded and the Republican House can't be bothered to hold hearings to get to the bottom of these discrepancies.

At some point those who support Bush must answer for their enabling of those lies. -- JMC

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