What do we do now?

Last week, in a move that should have all Americans who still care about freedom screaming as loud as they can, Congress passed a bill that essentially gives the president's bully boys the right to torture suspects.

They just can't call it that. Oh, and we can't legally rape our victims. Of course, since detainees have no automatic right to counsel, it isn't clear how anyone would find out they were being raped, unless we have another batch of enlisted men stupid enough to take pictures of themselves in the act.

In another blow for human rights, the administration's gauleiters also gallantly dropped their demands that we openly renounce or rewrite the Geneva Conventions on civilized behavior. All this is being billed as a reasonable compromise by politicians who need a refresher course in alien concepts like the Constitution, and what this country was meant to be.

And it is being blessed by editors who have spent too long hunched over their terminals, quivering lest someone call them liberals.

The rest of the world — even our friends — sees it differently.

"I am very disappointed," the United Nations' lead anti-torture investigator, Manfred Nowak, said. No, darlings, he is not a radical Muslim. Nowak is a constitutional law professor in Austria who has a degree from Columbia University in New York. "This doesn't send the signal that we would have expected after Abu Ghraib." No, not in the America we used to have.

It does send a message, however, human rights groups agreed.

"This unsavory political compromise will send the worst possible signal about the United States government's commitment to the rule of law," said the head of Liberty, a human rights group based in the United Kingdom.

That it does. George Bush has this much in common with Adolf Hitler — a belief that the law is what he says it is, and that he should be allowed to make the rules up as he goes along. According to historians, among all the titles he gave himself, Adolf especially liked Supreme Law Lord.

Now I know that it is supposed to be taboo to compare any politician to Hitler, and no, I am not suggesting Dubya is planning genocide. But he is trampling on the rights this nation always has stood for, and we are sitting here like cattle, each placidly chewing our cud until they come to load us on the truck.

"This agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do: To capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists and then to try them," Bush chirped brightly, while raising funds for GOP candidates.

Aha! Now we know why he has been such a flop at actually catching the one real terrorist known to exist, one Osama bin Laden, whom the Shrub once vowed to bring back dead or alive.

Osama seems to not only stay at large, but to find it slightly easier than Steven Spielberg to get his videos broadcast to a worldwide audience. (Maybe the new laws will help us get him, and help OJ find the real killer too.)

By the way — who decides who is a terrorist, anyway? As far as I can tell, anyone Our Leader specifies is a terrorist — including American citizens. Perhaps, according to this legislation, he could declare that this snarky column gives aid and comfort to terrorists, and have me hauled off to Guantanamo.

Fortunately, they now won't be able to sexually assault me, and they say they are giving up water torture. Unfortunately, as part of this wonderful compromise, I won't be able to protest my detention in any federal court.

Lovely. Now, it could have been worse. Thanks to a few concessions extracted by Sen. John McCain and the other "moderate" Republicans, when it comes time to try my sorry tail, I will be able to see any evidence the jury sees.

'Course, though since I won't necessarily have a lawyer, it isn't clear what good that will do me. But that's something, I guess.

This all started, by the way, when our none-too-liberal U.S. Supreme Court struck an actual blow for freedom in June, ruling unconstitutional the Star Chamber military tribunals our Supreme Law Lord — oops — president, had established to try terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Congress then had a chance to make a stand and take a position, and now we can see how weak our legislative pussycats really are. Incidentally, while most Democrats opposed this, a passel of them who are running for re-election voted for it, no doubt because they are more worried about looking weak than about preserving the right to justice. Our own U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow was one of those, by the way, which ought to make us deeply uneasy.

So while I still can, let me tell you what I really think. I believe the Bush administration is a far bigger threat to America's rights and freedoms, and the peace of the world, than any silly gang of terrorists.

I think the essence of America is guaranteeing a free trial and assuming that anyone is innocent until proven guilty — even if they are aliens, even if they are fanatic radical Muslims in other lands, even if they are Republican congressmen who want to molest little boys.

I think that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have killed far more people and have done far more damage to our nation than al-Qaeda has. I think that our nation and the world would be immeasurably better off if Bush and Cheney were in Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo, than it is with them making our nation's policies.

And I believe Bush and Cheney's actions are deeply un-American.

By the way, in the further interest of patriotism, let me add that I am also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and don't go to church.

So come and get me.

Sexual politics: Ironically, what attention the media would have given congressional passage of the package of bills on the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects was lessened because of a much juicier story.

This was the discovery that U.S. Rep Mark Foley, a 52-year-old Florida Republican, had been sending sick e-mails to a high school boy who was a congressional page, telling him, in some of the tamer ones, that he would like to slip his clothes off. (Foley had made protecting children from Internet predators a major issue, proving once again how right Saint Lily Tomlin was when she said that no matter how cynical you get, you can't keep up.)

Actually, my first thought was that as much as I loathe what their policies are doing to America, it would be unfair to blame the Republican Party for this. Twenty-three years ago, a Democratic congressman turned out to have actually been having sex with a boy page, and went on to be repeatedly re-elected.

Yet now we learn that the House leadership had known about these e-mails, some of them anyway, for almost a year. Nevertheless, they allowed Foley to remain head of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

That alone ought to be enough to bring down the government in any civilized country, no matter how weak and muddled the opposition might be.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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