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Here’s an indication of how crazy and sick things are in this country today: Last week, I heard an anchor on CNN casually mention words to the effect that U.S. Sen. John McCain and the president’s national security adviser “were still meeting in an attempt to reach a compromise on torture policy.”

What, you have to wonder, would a compromise on torture look like? You can torture on Mondays but not on Tuesdays? Crush our prisoners’ left testicles but not their right ones? Only rip off two fingernails from each hand?

The moment any American begins discussing torture as something that should be permitted, we should shun them as no longer sane.

Nor should we consider them worthy of the name American.

Naturally, some sleek neo-fascist like Charles Krauthammer or Tucker Carlson can be counted on to defend torture by trotting out the familiar hypothetical story of the “captured terrorist who knows where the nuclear bomb that will blow up Manhattan has been planted,” etc., etc.

Shouldn’t we be able to torture then?

That’s an intellectual argument about as worthy as saying the law should be changed so I could legally break into a market and drink all the good wine if an asteroid is going to destroy the earth tomorrow.

Everybody knows that in the unlikely case of nuclear terror and a captive who knows where the bomb is, the authorities, as McCain has said, would do “whatever they need to find out information.”

Trouble is, if you make that legal, we go right down the slippery slope till our cops and soldiers start torturing anyone they like, any time, for any reason.

Actually, lots of that is going on now. Months ago, we kidnapped a man named Khaled Masri off the street in Germany, thinking he was a terrorist. But he was an innocent man, picked up by mistake. We held him for five months, starved, beat and tortured him, before we realized we were wrong and the Germans knew about it. Then we dumped him on a back road in Albania.

How this all came about seems to be a bit of a mystery. According to The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, a top CIA official “just had a hunch” Masri was really somebody else. We do know, however, that people being tortured generally tell their questioners whatever the poor victims think they want to hear.

The strongest ones say whatever they can get away with. When he was being tortured in Vietnam, and was asked for names of others in his unit, John McCain once offered the names of Green Bay Packers football players.

One captured alleged terrorist reportedly gave the name of an innocent professor who had given him a bad grade. (Which makes me wonder why I wasn’t in a cell in Guantanamo long ago.)

The United States of America has no business sanctioning torture, period. Fortunately, at least for now, Congress overwhelmingly agrees. Last week, they voted 308-122 to outlaw cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners by Americans anywhere in the world. George W. Bush, who has never vetoed any bill, no matter how silly or free spending, has been threatening to veto this one.

That’s our president.

Embarrassingly bad? Damn straight. Yet the fact that our leader is against outlawing torture was, incredibly, not the worst news we got last week.

We also learned that Dubya himself long ago ordered the National Security Agency, a darker cousin of the CIA, to do widespread secret electronic eavesdropping in the United States. That’s less than legal, because Bush refuses even to go to a secret court that exists to issue warrants for this purpose, a court established just for intelligence matters.

Dubya doesn’t like having to go to courts, even though one of them installed him in office. What he did, three years ago, was sign a secret executive order allowing government to spy on American citizens.

Long ago, Republicans and Democrats agreed this was repellent. But Dubya doesn’t care much about civil liberties or human rights or laws. After all, he has ignored the law and the Geneva Conventions when it comes to his war on terror. And he vows to do it some more.

Violating Americans’ civil liberties was, he said, “a vital tool in our war against the terrorists.” Bush was upset about something, though. The revelation of his bad behavior caused both parties to agree to hold up reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, which also drastically expands the presidential power to infringe on Americans’ civil liberties.

“In a war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment,” he said. After all, you never know when the FBI might need to see what books little Jennifer Sullivan took out of the Royal Oak Public Library.

That’s the problem. Those who we worry might be terrorists aren’t named Johnny Meyers. They have names like Khalid Masri, and most of us don’t know any people like that very well.

Some weeks ago, I suggested that we were like frogs in a pot. The temperature that leads to fascism gets slowly turned up, degree by degree, until before you know it, we’ve lost our freedoms and didn’t even notice.

In my opinion, the entire “terrorist threat” is the most overblown political tactic in the world. Four years ago, a cunning and ruthless gang pulled one spectacular stunt, which we know as Sept. 11.

But since then, they haven’t done very much, certainly not here. Some day, there may be a terrorist named Maureen O’Riley. Hard to say; but some act of terror is bound to occur, if only by a raving nut. If that happens, do you suppose we’ll start wiretapping every Irish-American?

Or how about this: Suppose a Polish guy from Detroit was secretly an anarchist and plotted — successfully — to assassinate the president of the United States. Caught, he gleefully admitted it, saying the president was evil. And when they dragged him off to be executed, he said, “I’m not sorry!”

Well, guess what. That really happened, in 1901, when Leon Czolgosz murdered William McKinley for political reasons. They tried and executed him in a few weeks, and then spitefully poured sulfuric acid on his face after he was dead. But nobody suggested we spy on Polish America, or build secret prisons in other countries to hold people with suspicious Polish names.

Maybe that‘s because, for all our racism and faults and mean-spiritedness, we knew better who we were then.

We have a leader now who’s forgotten what being an American is all about — or more likely, the spoiled rich man’s son never really knew.

Some weeks ago I also dismissed any thoughts that we ought to consider impeaching this president. Now I think I may have been wrong about that too.

Democrats should try to impeach this fool who is responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths and the trampling of our basic rights. They can make a run at that, if they should win back one house of Congress next year.

They’d likely fail, but they could make a record for history and show what the nature of this administration was. They might even make future leaders hesitate to violate our rights and freedoms.

Think about it — and have a safe and happy holiday of whatever kind, and then come back here for some more loving warmth next week.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]. Hear him weekdays at 1 p.m. on WUOM (91.7 FM or
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