What Divides Us

Amanda just forwarded me the link to this article, which discusses how the legislation under consideration regarding “jailing, interrogating and trying terror suspects … contain[s] provisions on rape and sexual assault that turn back the clock alarmingly.” The basic problem is that the legislation narrowly defines rape as “forced or coerced genital or anal penetration,” which necessarily excludes a whole lot of acts that are nonetheless sexual assault, like “ordering a terrified female prisoner to strip and dance, which happened in Rwanda, or compelling a male prisoner to strip and wear women’s underwear on his head, or photographing naked prisoners piled together, both of which happened at Abu Ghraib.”

I actually read this article on Saturday (and groused about it to Mr. Shakes), but didn’t know what to say about it. It’s par for the course from the Bush administration, who have no regard whatsoever for human dignity, and are, in fact, seeking to find new ways to skirt provisions designed to protect it. That they would give not a piddly drip of dogwank about the brutal affront to human dignity that is sexual assault is wholly (though devastatingly) unsurprising.

In considering what I should—or could possibly—say about this newest bit of heinous devilry, it occurred to me that no matter how much we argue on behalf of humane treatment for detainees, and no matter on what premise (even that it will, in the end, keep us safer), our political opponents will not be persuaded.

The thing that divides us is not that they really believe, as they claim, that it is possible to “end” terrorism or magically transform the Middle East into a place where America has no enemies; they know, as do we, that there will always be people who endeavor to kill Americans. What divides us is that we see politics, diplomacy, the Geneva Conventions, international law, and the obligation to respect human dignity as the conduits through which we might try to effectively address those factors over which we have control that contribute to the rise of terrorism. And they see politics, diplomacy, and all the rest as bothersome obstructions to blowing the shit out of anyone who doesn’t like us.

So there is no effective argument to be mounted in defense of closing a loophole to prevent the sexual assault of detainees. Our opponents have no regard for the lives, or the dignity, of detainees. What divides us is their assumption that anyone who finds themselves in our custody already wants to kill us, and ours that someone who didn’t surely will, once shamefully made to dance naked like an absurd jester for a chortling court of despotic, gun-wielding captors.

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