I just finished Homeland by R. H. Weber, the fictional counterpart to Cruel & Unusual: The Bush/Cheney New World Order that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Wow. Homeland's three main characters' lives are interwoven, each stationed at a different vantage point in the hierarchy of a not unrecognizable America in 2008: loyalty oaths are exchanged for academic grant money, Camp Delta is filled with "suspected terrorists" who are tortured into signing "confessions," travel in and out of the country is restricted, and most operations of the government are faith-based. Kids are scared. Adults are in various stages of rationalization and denial about the course of events since 2001. Everyone in this story is familiar. That's the scariest part of all.
In one particularly chilling moment, an ambitious professor of psychology has just participated in a nauseating sequence of interrogations of a prisoner at Guantánamo. The prisoner has been broken: the professor is washing away her qualms with a drink with her fellow interrogator, an Army major, who says, "The methods. . .are unattractive, I'll grant you that, Lara. No one in their right mind would debate that. I'm no brute. Both our motives are right, and in the end, that's what counts. Our beliefs are everything." The professor later reflects, "Quibblers may console themselves with upholding legalistic niceties; they may consider war and the striving for total security to be fit subjects only for dictatorships. But if a people can be toppled by eighteen or nineteen men infected with the [terrorist] virus, then history can, and must, be revised."
I could not put this book down. (If Grisham novels are anywhere near this good, maybe I'll read one some time.) Frequent references are made to Arthur Koestler's book Darkness at Noon, which I am off to the library to pick up now. But Homeland is a rich and timely instruction on how easy it is to bend to the will of our masters, even as we think we are resisting. As we struggle to get oriented in the huge gap between the words and actions of our real-life, real-time, "fictional" president (as Michael Moore famously said), this tiny novel (157 pages) is a useful guide to where we could be going. Read this one. It's too important to miss.
A couple of hours after I finished Homeland, I came across this disturbing post at Obsidian Wings: "Last month Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman, introduced a bill that would clearly outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has 22 cosponsors, and now the House leadership is trying to legalize torture outsourcing--and hide it in the bill implementing the 9/11 Commission Report. These are excerpts from a press release one of Markey's staffers just emailed me:
The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the '9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,' introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish 'by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,' would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.
This provision was not part of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, and the Commission actually called upon the U.S. to 'offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.' The Commission noted that 'The United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach to the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law.' These standards prohibit the use of torture or other cruel or degrading treatment....
Rep. Markey said, 'When the Republicans 9/11 bill is considered in the House, I intend to offer an amendment to strike the torture outsourcing provisions from the Republican bill and replace it with restrictions restoring international law as provided in my bill. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Republican Leadership has decided to load up the 9/11 Commission bill with legislative provisions that would legitimize torture, particularly when the Commission itself called for the U.S to move in exactly the opposite direction.'
There is no possible way for a suspect being detained in secret to prove by 'clear and convincing evidence' that he will be tortured if he is deported--especially when he may be deported to a country where has never been, and when the officials who want to deport him serve as judge, jury and executioner, and when there is never any judicial review. This bill will make what happened to Maher Arar perfectly legal, and guarantee that it will happen again. Markey's staffer wrote to me that 'this bill could be on the House floor as early as next week.'"
How boldy the Republicans go into territory that, until now, few us could even imagine.