Commentary

Media Occupation: Torture As Entertainment

In the new James Bond film that comes out today, "Casino Royale," 007 gets stripped naked, tied to a chair and tortured in an almost unimaginably private and perverse way. The scene is brutal and hard to watch, and meant as another indication that this isn't the worn-out film franchise it used to be, but an amped-up reboot with a new look, new star, and new direction.

But the scene also includes witty repartee from Bond the victim to his torturer--and as horrible as the sequence is, it's still served up as the most modern of entertainments. Torture as diversion--well-lit glamorized Hollywood-ized torture. Torture that makes you think torture, well, isn't quite so out of the ordinary. Normal, almost, in today's gray world.

The movie business has been big on torture in the past two years, and it has gone a long way to numbing Americans' reactions to the fact that we're now a country that's led by people who think torture is okay. Movies like the despicable "Saw" franchise continually try to top themselves with new and inventive ways to inflict slow misery, and films like "Hostel" and the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" get big marketing pushes.

You might hate those movies--I certainly do--but the mainstream media allows torture to become part of the fabric of our daily lives, even if it's something that they righteously disdain.

Yesterday, YouTube posted some real torture. A UCLA student was tasered repeatedly by the LA Police because he refused to leave the campus library as they asked. You can hear him screaming, and the growing sense of anger, desperation and helplessness in the crowd of students watching as they do it again and again. Who can they call for help? The police are already there.

Over a year ago, following an ACLU lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to turn over additional pictures and videotapes of torture that took place in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison. What was in those pictures was so horrific that members of Congress had to look at them in a secret room in the Capital. In America, there was very little reporting what was in those pictures and videos, particularly in print or on television. The best was done by the online news publication, Slate.

But even the horrific stuff in the Slate pictures and videos don't tell it all. You've got to dig deep, deep into this CBS/AP story to hear Republican Senator Lindsey Graham say: "We're talking about rape and murder here."

Even with the hundreds of photos and almost two dozen videos posted at Slate, there are still 29 pictures and two videos that the Pentagon refuses to release. What could possibly be in those pictures and videos? Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker investigative reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib story and won a Pulitzer for exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, said in a speech to the ACLU that parents were forced to watch their children being raped.

Why hasn't the Pentagon had to release this additional material, even though a federal judge has ordered them to? Because after the judge made his order, Congress granted the Department of Defense's "operational files" exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. It happened around Christmastime last year, and got no coverage in the United States. None at all.

But there was lots of time spent by the GOPuppets to tell Americans what went on at Abu Ghraib was merely a “media generated story….no worse than a Skull and Bones initiation,” in the words of Rush Limbaugh.  Odd that he would mention ye olde Yale secret society Skull and Bones, which counts President Bush as a member, don’t you think?  Maybe that’s because this week the CIA revealed the existence of a classified document, signed by the President, that guides the agency’s interrogation methods.  What does the document say?  That, they’re not telling.

Thanks to all the election junkies who sent me follow-ups to my column last week about America's dicey voting process, particularly as it relates to computerized machines from Diebold and the like. The biggest dogs in the mainstream media--the New York Times, particularly--are doing an unexpectedly decent job pounding this story, and it will probably climax in the investigation of 18,000 alleged non-votes in a close Florida Congressional election for Katherine Harris's old seat. In case you think that's just an isolated case, however, here's a running tally of over 200 problems with the machines around the country.