Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The America that I know


Bush goes on Arab tv, says the torture thing does not represent “the America that I know.” Like Bush knows anything about American from inside “The Bubble.” As we understand from a million stories, including this week’s, which you must have seen, about the World War II veteran turned away from a Bush rally after being questioned about who he’d voted for in 2000, the America that Bush knows has been very carefully screened (Kerry’s crowds are also screened, according to www.campaigndesk.org).

Of course the America that most of us are allowed to see is increasingly being carefully screened. Disney has blocked the release of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 911 (of course that name derives from a Ray Bradbury book about a future in which all books are burned to screen the people from subversive ideas) because Jeb Bush might retaliate against the tax breaks Disney World (speaking of carefully screened realities) gets. Really, that’s too much irony packed into a story for even my tastes. What isn’t clear to me is whether Disney can also block it being released by any other distributor.

Some of the rhetoric used by Bushies, focusing on “rules,” must be especially annoying to Iraqis. An example: Powell: "What they did was illegal, against all regulations, against all standards.” Considering that it was done to people who were herded into Abu Ghraib (which is Arabic for Manzanar) according to no particular standards or regulations, this talk is downright insulting (even the internal US Army report says that 60% of the prisoners are innocent). It also focuses on how things work on paper, rather than in the real world. Iraqis know about nice words on paper meaning nothing; Saddam’s constitution (1990, I think) is quite a nice little document. Actually, all this language shows an un-Bushlike trust in rules and regulations. Of course that’s all he had to give the Iraqis, an investigative process, since he wasn’t willing to fire Rumsfeld or anyone else. In fact, he had nothing. He went to them, on Arabic-language satellite services, and didn’t bring so much as a bundt cake, much less someone’s head on a platter.

Sometimes a piece of rhetoric nags at me, and I’m not quite sure why, then 3 days later I’ll write 250 words on a six-word sentence uttered by Chimp Boy (see my 2002 essay on “No wonder I think they’re evil,” which anticipated that LA Times piece a few days ago on Bush’s management style by 2 years). Today, it’s the line from Bush and others that the Abu Ghraib pictures “do not reflect,” “do not represent” the American people (or as Bush characteristically put it, the “hearts” of Americans). All I can think is that it has something to do with the Bushies’ obsession, much stronger than Clinton’s, with image, or more accurately images, like the flight deck landing, the statue toppling and all the other carefully stage-managed moments, as if they’re constantly auditioning for a postage stamp. It was often said of Reagan that once he had made a good speech on a subject, he thought he was done; Bush, who is less fixated on words, for obvious reasons, thinks that once he has the right visual, he’s fixed in place the meaning of an event. Ironically, it was the two words Mission Accomplished that really turned Flight Suit Boy’s million-dollar photo op into a sick joke, and it was the photos of the prisoners that made torture into a live issue.

Bush also referred to torture and sexual humiliation as “mistakes,” as in “It is also important for the people of Iraq to know that in a democracy everything is not perfect; mistakes are made.” You know how it is when you accidentally put a bag over a prisoner’s head and force him to masturbate. I suppose we should just be thankful that Bush finally found a mistake, although not one he made, of course, nor yet one he felt obligated to apologize for, or refer to in the active voice (I know it was Reagan who said “mistakes were made”--can anyone remember the context?).

There’s a good analysis of the Bush interviews at Slate. It notes that he spoke consistently from a position of arrogant superiority. “It is not Bush's place, especially when speaking humbly on Iraqi television, to claim that American soldiers are doing "great work on behalf of the Iraqi people." That's for Iraqis to decide.” “Too often, the president began a sentence with the words, "People in Iraq must understand ..." or "The Iraqi people must understand …" or "People in the Middle East must understand … ."” The piece also notes that the report on Abu Ghraib (which is Arabic for the Black Hole of Calcutta)(I’m now officially retiring that one) was classified, although it is illegal to classify an official investigation into illegal conduct.

From the Guardian: “The US-led coalition in Afghanistan has distributed leaflets calling on people to provide information on al-Qaida and the Taliban or face losing humanitarian aid. The move has outraged aid organisations who said their work is independent of the military and it was despicable to pretend otherwise. Medécins Sans Frontières, the international medical charity which passed the leaflets to the Guardian, said the threat endangered aid workers. Fourteen aid workers were killed in Afghanistan last year and 11 so far this year.”

Guess what, there’s more film. I haven’t seen it, but here’s Robert Fisk’s description: “As a wounded Iraqi crawls from beneath a burning truck, an American helicopter pilot tells his commander that one of three men has survived his night air attack. "Someone wounded," the pilot cries. Then he received the reply: "Hit him, hit the truck and him." As the helicopter's gun camera captures the scene on video, the pilot fires a 30mm gun at the wounded man, vaporising him in a second.” Evidently the footage has been shopped around for 2 weeks, and only ABC, the CBC and Canal Plus in France have run it. Shooting a wounded man is a war crime under the Geneva conventions. The incident occurred last December. There is no evidence in the film that the 3 dead men were doing anything remotely suspicious.

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