Whenever I watch C-Span’s coverage of the daily White House press briefings I wonder how the correspondents keep their sanity. It’s admirable that the blogger at FishbowlDC persevered until he finally got a White House press pass. But I bet he often thinks, listening to spokesman Scott McClellan, “Why the heck am I wasting my time here?”
For McClellan is a master of using robotic responses that have little or no connection to what is being asked. It’s amusing to use the 30 second advance button on my digital video recorder and hear McClellan repeating the exact same words every half a minute like a neo-con pull-toy: “Freedom is on the march…Everything changed after 9/11…Freedom is on the march…Everything changed after 9/11.”
Last Monday, March 7, I happened to tune in while McClellan was blathering on about the U.S. rendition policy. Rendition is a fancy word for what basically is kidnapping. “Sixty Minutes” recently featured a segment on the practice. Typically it works like this.
A suspected terrorist (note, suspected) is arrested in a foreign country. Sweden, say. He’s then turned over to American authorities who fly around the world in a private jet. Wearing hoods, they pick up the suspect and deliver him to a country where torture is an accepted interrogation technique. Egypt, say. The poor soul is then beaten and otherwise tortured to within an inch of his life. No trial. No lawyer. No one knows where he’s been taken.
Sixty Minutes interviewed a man who, as I recall, was arrested in Bosnia. He was flown by the rendition team to Afghanistan. There he was beaten and accused of being a terrorist. He was told that nobody knew where he was, which naturally included his family. After a few months he was released and dropped off in Albania.
He said that he was told, “We got you mixed up with someone else.” He didn’t believe that story. Regardless, it’s scary when the American government believes that it can pick up someone and secretly deposit them into the hands of torturers. Of course, the U.S. claims that the countries where the suspects are rendered have agreed not to use torture. Yeah, right.
Here’s how this part of the White House press briefing went. Scott McClellan is answering (or more accurately, trying not to answer) a question from ABC’s Terry Moran.
McClellan: We also have an obligation not to render people to countries if they believe they would be tortured…But this is a different kind of war, and it requires us to gather intelligence so we can protect the American people.
Moran: One of the countries that receives a lot of these individuals is Uzbekistan. What is it that the Uzbekis can do in interrogations that the United States of America can’t do?
McClellan then says that he can’t speak about specific intelligence matters. Moran presses on in his fruitless search for a straight answer.
Moran: In general, what is it that that this country, the most advanced in national security matters of any country in the world, cannot accomplish in interrogations that the nation of Uzbekistan can?
Once again, McClellan slides off the question, saying that he can’t speak about specific intelligence gathering techniques. Moran won’t let him off the hook.
Moran: I’m wondering about the rationale for rendition. Why does the President approve of it? Why has he expanded it? And what is it that countries like Uzbekistan, in general, offer the U.S.?
McClellan: I’ve just told you that, in general, we have an obligation to the American people to gather intelligence that will prevent attacks from happening in the first place. The war on terrorism is a different kind of war and we have sworn enemies of the United States who seek to do us harm and we are talking about enemy combatants, known terrorists, involved in plotting and planning to attack the American people in the past, and who might have information that can help us prevent attacks from happening in the future. And as we go about gathering intelligence we have rules and laws that we believe are important, that we believe need to be adhered to…The President has made it very clear that we do not torture.
Highly debatable. But now that Americans have been caught using torture, it seems that the backup policy is to have other countries do the torturing for us. So McClellan can stand there with a straight face and say “We do not torture.” We just have people in hoods pick people up and fly them in a private plane to places where they do torture.
Disgusting. 1984 doublespeak is alive and well in 2005. Listening to McClellan, I was proud to be a Kerry voter.