March 01, 2005

The English Speaking Peoples

Somehow, it’s all gone pear shaped, as Londoners say. While America watched the Oscars, this week Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast a four part series on American torture. Part I: a pseudo-reality show in which British men will be subjected to the techniques employed by the US government in extraterritorial detention centers. The hook: How long can they bear it, one day or two? The point: help the British public decide whether or not the practices are morally acceptable.

The description of Torture: The Guantánamo Guidebook reads,

In this powerful and shocking programme, seven volunteers – some of whom began by supporting the Guantánamo regime – agreed to submit themselves to some of the conditions and coercive methods used at Guantánamo Bay.

The producers clearly believe they know what the public’s verdict will be. UK and other reviewers have questioned the show’s format, but have taken the opportunity to lambaste the government practices they depict. More to the point is the advertisement for the show, which has been shown repeatedly after 10pm, and which says in part:

What if you had a terror suspect in your custody? ...Would you attack his religious beliefs by humiliating him with menstrual blood? ...How far would you go to get the confession you want to hear?

In another part of the series, journalist Andrew Gilligan

goes on the trail of the Special Removal Unit, a secret American kidnap team that goes around the world abducting men they suspect of having terrorist links and rendering them to countries where they will be tortured for information — a process the CIA calls extraordinary rendition.

Extraordinary rendition, DoubleSpeak for outsourcing torture to dictatorships, has been well-documented by journalists like Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Bob Herbert of The New York Times, and Michael Hirsh, Mark Hosenball, and John Barry of Newsweek. But if these stories shock and embarrassed us at home in the US, abroad they have swept away the remaining crumbs of our moral credibility.

Come to England and speak to the average bloke; America is no longer a shining light on the hill — far from it. After the willful invention of ties between Osama and Saddam, after the detention of innocent (and thus eventually released) British citizens without charge at Guantánamo Bay, after the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib, and now after the breathtaking hypocrisy of the “freedom” State of the Union address, which was almost immediately clarified as business as usual by Bush senior — many Brits view America under Bush alternately as an enormous stupid beast, unaware of the carnage it causes as it blindly flails around, or a dangerous Machiavellian overlord, drunk with selfish power.

Bush’s recent European tour did little to change minds; his ‘Russian ballet’ was the dance of double standards. After raising expectations of a confrontation with the emerging dictator on Europe’s border, in the event Bush offered a half-hearted critique and a wholehearted suck-up. Putin verbally outmaneuvered Bush, because he was able to claim, as commentators have long feared, that Russia’s behavior was morally equivalent to America’s. All that is left of our bully pulpit is the bully.

What is most dismaying geopolitically is that high ranking members of Britain’s conservative Tory party, defined by their Euroskepticism since Thatcher, are for the first time asking themselves whether they feel closer to Europe than to the United States on key policy and defense issues. This could presage a fundamental transformation of the Special Relationship that has endured since Roosevelt and Churchill collaborated to end Fascism. I can only imagine, if we are losing the faith of conservative Brits, how we are viewed in the rest of the world.

By Will Friedman in Commentary, Foreign Affairs | Permalink  | 

Comments

Okay, I'll go first :)

They used to write scifi stories about people living vicariously through media-based pseudo-reality instead of experiencing true reality. We've seen those stories begin to blend into fact as reality-tv develops... it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to imagine actual war presented as entertainment.

Hey, wait a minute -- !

Posted by: SheaNC | Mar 4, 2005 6:20:52 PM

Gosh, I'm all alone here...
...all alone...

Posted by: SheaNC | Mar 24, 2005 8:05:50 PM

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