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Have You Heard the One About Torture?

How many good jokes do you know that start:

So, a couple of Gitmo detainees walk into a bar. . . .

I believe the answer is none.

I have seen a lot of bullshit bonhomie over years of Washington watching, but I was still shocked by the exchange featured here. Joking that a few extra hours in a cramped committee room are like being a prisoner at Guantanamo, and doing so without even the slightest hint of self-awareness, is far outside the bounds of good taste, even for Congress.

I didn’t think it needed saying, but obviously it does: Having to sit through a half-day’s worth of partisan wrangling, where you have access to water, food, staff, and the warm glow of TV cameras is not worse than (or even akin to) years of indefinite detention in a prison cell on a remote island, cut off from anyone you know or love, subject to routine abuse and frequent torture, all conducted under a cloak of official secrecy, outside the rule of law, without any recourse or any reasonable expectation that this hell will ever end. Further, such jocular comparisons are singularly insensitive to the denigration of human rights perpetrated under the color of authority, and, what’s more, are not in the least bit funny.

Given the complete lack of sensitivity or self-awareness, is it any wonder that we seem to lack as a nation any sense of urgency to close this American gulag and restore the rule of law?

And, given this complete lack of sensitivity and self-awareness, is it any wonder that just a few hours later, these same august men and women thought it acceptable to trade away the reproductive rights of a broad swath of poor and middle-class Americans?

If there are equivalencies to be drawn here, they exist in the cavalier attitudes that Members of Congress seem to have about basic human rights and the protections guaranteed under the US Constitution.

Alas, those doing the joking are off camera, so I can’t place their imperious mugs on any wall of shame, but I have reason to believe that at least one of those buffoons is a Democrat. That, too, should probably not be a surprise. When a Republican was in the White House, Democrats failed to exercise there power to stop the Military Commissions Act or prevent anti-abortion judges from taking seats on the Supreme Court; now, with a Democrat in the White House and commanding majorities in Congress, Democrats seem incapable of rolling back the extra-legal regimes put in place by the Bush administration, but quite capable of rolling back rights granted under Roe v. Wade.

It shouldn’t be acceptable, it isn’t funny, but guess what, America? Once again the joke’s on you.

(If you are feeling inclined to make some calls to these purported public servants over whether health care reform will deny abortion coverage to any individuals or groups that get insurance, public or private, from the new health care exchange, HCAN has a list of numbers.)

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Gregg Levine

Gregg Levine