I am suffering from outrage fatigue.
I try not to get too caught up in the Outrage of the Day. It wasn’t always so–I’ve been a rather obsessive observer of the political scene for a long time, and, I must confess, have driven my blood pressure into dangerous levels at times about any number of issues, only to find that the energy expended proved largely wasted, as events played out as they were supposed to–sometimes to my liking, often not. Major Media–the big papers and TV news outlets–have their obsessive outrages, generally tacking hard to port, while talk radio and the more conservative blogs tack starboard. It is easy to get caught up in either, and expend precious energy fuming about that which is far beyond my ability to control–hopping from Drudge to Kos, Rush to Atrios, Washington Post to Washington Times. Whiplash, I tell you, whiplash–all at the light-speed of 21st century media.
But we live in a Democracy, an open society with nominally representative government, so there is a responsibilty to speak out at times, despite my poor efforts to achieve a more Zen-like perspective. And recently I did just that, sending an e-mail to one of my Senators, Maria Cantwell.
I have been disturbed–not outraged, mind you (I’m increasingly incapable of outrage, numbed as I am by the sheer quantity of immoderate occurrences)–with the recent comments of Senator Durbin of Illinois regarding the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, comparing our treatment of al Queda and other terrorist retainees to that of the Holocaust, Stalin’s gulags, and Pol Pot.
Now, outrageous statements have been flowing like milk and honey from the Democrats in recent months–from Howard Dean’s “hates Republicans and everything they stand for” and “party of white Christians” comments, to Harry Reid’s Bush is a “loser” screed, to Charlie Rangle’s “Iraq is the Holocaust” metaphor, to pretty much everything Jimmy Carter says (still can’t believe I voted for Jimmah–so young, so foolish!). Granted, the Right is not exempt from such behavior–Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan, Michael Savage, Limbaugh come to mind–but increasingly, hysterical hyperbole seems to have become the lingua franca of the Democratic Party.
So I decided to e-mail Senator Cantwell, expressing my dismay at Senator Durbin’s inappropriate metaphor, which showed either stunning historical ignorance, or, more likely, simple disregard for even simpler facts. The letter–sent from Senator Cantwell’s web site, and sadly not saved–expressed concern that Senator Durbin’s comments were not only factually ludicrous, but insulting to those serving in our military, and provided fodder to those for whom a U.S. Senator’s comparison of Gitmo to the gulag will provoke a feeding frenzy of terrorist propaganda–all for the noble and worthy cause of politically savaging a President whom he and his party detest.
I asked Senator Cantwell–a Democrat–what her thoughts and opinions were about these comments by a party leader in the Senate, now widely disseminated by internet and alternative media, and whether she agreed or disagreed with them, since she had been silent on the matter. And I promptly received the reply:
Dear Dr Bob, blogger par excellence, insignificant little rodent in the TTLB ecosystem [or something akin to that – Ed.],
Thank you for contacting me regarding the use of torture by our military. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue and apologize for the delayed response.
As you know, the use of torture by governments in times of war and as an instrument of criminal punishment is a deplorable reality through many parts of the world. These practices must be stopped. Torture is barbaric and inhumane and has no part as an instrument of government policy for any legitimate government.
As you know, Senator Susan Collins introduced the National Intelligence Reform Act (S. 2845) on September 23, 2004. A provision within this bill restates U.S. policy that no prisoner is to receive any cruel and unusual forms of punishment, including torture. This right is granted to all civilian prisoners under the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, according to the Geneva Convention, which the United States signed, prisoners of war must be humanely treated at all times. Any unlawful act that causes death or seriously endangers the health of a prisoner of war is violation of the Conventions. The prisoners must not be subject to physical mutilation, violence and intimidation. The National Intelligence Reform Act conference report passed the Senate, with my support, by an 89 to 2 vote and President Bush signed it into law on December 17, 2004.
I believe it is important to uphold basic human rights, including protections against torture. I am following these matters very closely and will continue to work to assure that these American values are upheld. I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure the defense of these rights around the world.
Thank you again for contacting me to share your thoughts on this matter.
Finally, you may be interested in signing up for my weekly update for Washington state residents. Every Monday, I provide a brief outline about my work in the Senate and issues of importance to Washington state. If you are interested in subscribing to this update, please visit my website at http://cantwell.senate.gov . Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance.
United States Senator
Having received this lovely tome–from a sitting U.S. Senator, no less!–I was quite pleased at her prompt and courteous reply. After a few moments of dazed enchantment, however, it occurred to me: she never addressed the question I asked. Hmm … reminds me of the game Charades: sounds like a car–a Ford? No, a Chevy? No! I’ve got it!!–it’s a Dodge!
OK, it’s really a form letter: our representatives in the Other Washington are Busy, Important People, and they get tons of e-mails, calls and letters, so how better to handle them than by the wonder of technology: hit F8, the macro runs: REPLY TO: Our Troops Are Torturing Fascists–and, bingo!–another irritating e-mail dismissed. Done!–faster than you can accept a lobbyist’s junket–oops!, fact-finding mission. Now, what time is that lunch date at Citronelle?
But re-reading her reply, something else struck me, apart from her failure to answer my initial question: am I alone in reading into her reply the assumption that the U.S. military, as a matter of policy, is involved in torture? Is this a sufficient concern that new legislation must be introduced to restate existing U.S. policy that there be no torture of prisoners? Her reply really raises more questions tha it answers (which isn’t hard, since it answered none).
So, being in a civic mood, I am writing her back–this time by old-fashioned snail mail. Here’s the gist of my return letter:
Dear Senator Cantwell,
Thank you for your recent e-mail response (enclosed herein) to my inquiry about your position and comments regarding Senator Durbin’s recent comparison of our troups at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s gulags, and Pol Pot. It appears that you misunderstood my question, as your reply does not address this issue in any substantive way. It does, however, raise a number of questions in my mind about your position on this controversial topic. Realizing your busy schedule serving the citizens of Washington State, I would nevertheless appreciate your thoughts on some of the following issues pertinent to this difficult subject:
- Your reply seems to imply that torture by U.S. military and intelligence personnel, as a matter of policy, is a problem requiring legislative redress. Are you aware of any instances of such torture by individuals in the military, CIA, or FBI, where such torture was tacitly or explicitly approved by superiors or practiced as a matter of policy? Have you detailed these instances in the Senate, for the American people?
- Perhaps as a foundational question, what exactly constitutes torture by your definition? We would all agree, I think, that severe physical abuse, starvation, electrical shocks, and other similar methods used by despotic regimes are inappropriate. What about psychological means, such as sleep deprivation, loud abrasive music, environmental stress such as heat and cold (when restrained to prevent lasting physical harm), abusive language, priviledge revocation, isolation–particularly when such means may be helpful in obtaining information which may save the lives of U.S. soldiers or thousands–perhaps millions–of American citizens?
- If the above psychological means are considered torture by you–and therefore are off-limits to American troops and intelligence services–how do you propose obtaining potentially life-saving information from those committed to our destruction, who happily immolate themselves for the joy of killing countless American infidels, and the reward of heavenly virgins?
- You mention the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment for American citizens–not “all civilian prisoners”. Should these and all other rights of the Constitution be extended to non-citizens–especially to those who hate our constitutional, democratic way of life, captured while attacking our troops, murdering women and children, and plotting to destroy the very way of life we seek to defend?
- Does the Geneva convention apply to those who wear no uniforms, who hide among civilian populations and use them as self-defense against our troops, who store arms in mosques, use hospitals and schools as bases to kill American troops? Should we apply the principles of the Geneva convention to those who would use these very principles to destroy us?
- And finally, Senator, what did you think about Senator Durbin’s comparison of Gitmo to the gulags? Agree? Disagree? Appalled? Ecstatic? Your constituents are interested in knowing.
Thank you for your time, and service to our country.
Dr Bob, blogger, aka Rodent Boy [just so she remembers me — Ed.]
Now, having fulfilled my civic responsibilities, I return to the lotus position: back straight, eyes closed, thumbs and forefingers in a perfect circle, legs crossed–Ouch! Damned hips–where’s my Vioxx?