When You Said Bush Wasn’t a Nazi, You Meant He Was a Nazi–But He Isn’t

Under the headline “President Bush Is No Nazi Torturer,” Washington Post editorial writer Eva Rodriguez uses a blog post (6/9/10) to “take exception” to another Post blog item (6/9/10) written by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. The point of contention: vanden Heuvel, responding to a report that the U.S. government has been conducting research on torture victims, wrote:

Granted, this “research” was not the Frankenstein stuff of Dr. Mengele–the experimentation seems to have been conducted in order to determine how sadistic American torturers could be before they crossed into illegality. But it is still appalling.

Now, you might think that when vanden Heuvel said the U.S. experiments were not like Nazi Auschwitz doctor Mengele’s, she meant that Mengele’s experiments were different from the U.S.’s. But that’s why you don’t have a job writing editorials for the Washington Post. Actually, vanden Heuvel’s “acutely insincere” blog post said that the American researchers were unlike Mengele because she meant to say that they were just like Mengele. (“By raising the specter of Mengele, vanden Heuvel makes her point clear.”) And that’s not true!

Writes Rodriguez:

She’s wrong. Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars–if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his “patients” so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.

Aside from vanden Heuvel’s “insincere” denial that U.S. torturers were as bad as Mengele–note her lack of an “I really mean it!” or any other such guarantee of sincerity–Rodriguez seems to object to the use of the word “sadistic” to describe U.S. torture: “These werenâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢t experiments to gratify a sadistic streak; they were efforts to ensure the interrogations remained ‘legal’ and ‘humane.'”

Here’s a description, from the Washington Post (4/27/07) no less, of one interrogation that turned out to be less than “legal” or “humane”:

In 2002, a young Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who’d never spent a night away from his dusty little village, got lost in the fog of war and took a wrong turn into an abyss from which he would never return. It was a detention center at Bagram Air Base, where he was grilled on suspicion of being a Taliban fighter. Military interrogators hung him from a cage in chains, kept him up all night and kicked him senseless, turning his legs into pulp.

He lasted only five days. The Army initially attributed his death to natural causes, even though coroners had ruled it a homicide. Low-level soldiers were punished. It turned out that Dilawar (who, like many Afghans, used only one name) was not an enemy fighter, had no terrorist connections and had committed no crime at all.

Don’t call that “sadistic”–those are just what Rodriguez calls the “misguided acts of a president intent on protecting his country from another devastating attack.” They have nothing at all to do with the “impulses of a psychopath,” no matter what Katrina vanden Heuvel didn’t say.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.