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Will the Lying Ever Stop?

By Robert Parry
December 7, 2005

Having already destroyed the credibility of his first Secretary of State, George W. Bush has now eviscerated whatever trust the world might have placed in his second Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

By sending Colin Powell to the United Nations to pitch a dubious – and ultimately bogus – case for war against Iraq in 2003, Bush unmasked the warrior diplomat as a rank opportunist who put his career and loyalty to his superiors ahead of truthfulness and the welfare of American soldiers. Powell later called the U.N. speech a “blot” on his record.

Now, Rice has suffered a similar fate, appearing before European leaders and making assertions that were known to be lies as they passed her lips.

Rice insisted that “the United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees.” She also asserted that the Bush administration wouldn’t ship a detainee to other countries “for the purpose of interrogation using torture,” nor to a country “when we believe he will be tortured.”

Since Rice’s statements on Dec. 5, many mainstream American journalists have danced around the l-word by suggesting that Rice might have been carefully parsing her words to avoid an outright lie. What do the words “authorize” and “condone” mean? What exactly is “torture”? Is there wiggle room in the phrases “for the purpose of” and “will be” instead of “may be”?

But it is virtually impossible to ignore the overwhelming evidence that President Bush did order the “gloves off” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and instituted a broad policy of harsh treatment not only of high-profile al-Qaeda suspects but of lesser figures, including Iraqi insurgents suspected of attacking U.S. troops inside Iraq.

Besides techniques such as “water-boarding” which simulates drowning, U.S. interrogators have employed a wide arsenal of techniques including stripping detainees naked, subjecting them to extremes of hot and cold, and forcing them into painful “stress positions” for extended periods of time. Some detainees have died from beatings.

The Bush administration also has established a worldwide policy that amounts to “disappearing” detainees. They are denied even the most rudimentary protections under the rule of law and international agreements. Some are even hidden from the Red Cross.

Human Rights Watch spokesman Tom Malinowski said Bush’s use of the practice of “rendition” differs from its earlier application, which was to ship suspects to countries where they would stand trial; now, they are put beyond “judicial interference” so they can be interrogated and imprisoned indefinitely. [Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2005]

History of Deception

In a larger sense, however, Rice’s torture denial – like Powell’s earlier deceptive case for war – represents a longstanding approach to information by the neoconservatives who dominate Bush’s foreign policy.

For decades, the neocons have followed the approach that when lacking the facts, simply lie. Then, count on your allies in the media to browbeat the doubters by impugning their patriotism. Also, recognize that America’s weakened checks and balances will seldom hold you accountable. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Amorality.”]

Those of us who covered the Iran-Contra scandal knew this strategy well. Even when one of White House aide Oliver North’s secret supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua in October 1986, the unified message from top Reagan-Bush administration officials was that there was “no U.S. government connection” to the flight.

A month later, in November 1986, when a Lebanese newspaper revealed secret arms deals between the administration and Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist government, the initial reaction from the White House, including President Ronald Reagan, was again to deny, deny, deny.

Later, Vice President George H.W. Bush insisted he was “not in the loop” on Iran-Contra decisions despite evidence that his office was a hub for both the Iranian and Nicaraguan wheels of the operation. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Lost History.]

This pattern of confident deception has continued to the present day with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney having the temerity to accuse their Iraq War critics of “rewriting history.” To hear Bush and Cheney tell it, they are the ones standing for truth even though much of what they said about Iraq turned out to be false. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Rewriting of History.”]

Many Americans marvel at this chutzpah. But the answer to the mystery of this stunning arrogance is simple: Bush, Cheney and their surrogates judge that they can say whatever they want because this strategy has worked so often before.

They know the powerful right-wing media apparatus – from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to Fox News to AM talk radio to the multitude of conservative writers and commentators – will embrace virtually whatever comes out of the White House. Plus most mainstream journalists are so afraid of getting pegged with the “liberal” label that the worst that will happen is that the press will present competing versions of reality.

Most Democrats – terrified of some future 30-second attack ad – will search for some politically safe middle ground. For those few who still muster the courage to challenge the administration directly, they can expect a good tongue lashing from Cheney for their “reprehensible” behavior or Fox News diatribes for their lack of patriotism.

Faced with all this contradictory chatter, millions of Americans just tune out the words or they set aside reason and simply react to the visceral arguments that juxtapose “cutting and running” with “supporting the troops.”

Critical Thinking

As my brother, William Parry, noted during a visit over the Thanksgiving holiday, there is no vested interest in the United States for teaching critical thinking.

Indeed, the nation’s march to war in Iraq put on display nearly every classic example of irrational arguments, from false dichotomies (“who are you going to believe, this mad dictator or the president of the United States?”) to ad hominem attacks on critics (“Saddam sympathizers! Why don’t you move to France!”). [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Politics of Preemption.”]

Yet while there is no financial motivation to teach critical thinking, there is a huge incentive to master the techniques of manipulating the American people. Given that the United States is the world’s biggest market as well as the most powerful military force, no population has been more closely studied to determine how to influence its decisions.

Long ago, Madison Avenue’s expertise spilled into the nation’s political process from one side while the CIA’s dark arts of propaganda flooded in from the other. The American people are subjected to endless emotional and manipulative appeals.

In the absence of reasoned discourse, the key to winning a political fight is to deploy more media artillery and propaganda firepower than your opponent. That has been a strategy followed for three decades by American conservatives who built up their own media apparatus and financed attack groups to go after mainstream reporters.

The Right’s success was, in turn, compounded by the Left’s failure to build a comparable media infrastructure or even to support mainstream journalists when they came under withering fire from the Right. Instead, the Left has put the bulk of its money into local “grassroots organizing” and into social programs, such as feeding the hungry.

These differing strategies have led to an aggressive right-wing media, an intimidated mainstream press corps and an inconsequential progressive media. That dynamic, in turn, means that large swaths of the American countryside (i.e. the Red States) are inundated with TV, radio and print denunciations of liberals as people who “hate America.” [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]

The danger from this national media predicament is that the Bush administration’s “perception management” may work domestically in the near term to keep the American people in line, but the propaganda has declining value elsewhere in the world, especially in the Middle East where U.S. credibility is scraping the bottom.

At some point, international credibility – or the lack of it – may emerge as a national security problem. In all likelihood, there will come a time when a truly dangerous threat to the United States will arise and will require a multilateral response.

If that happens, the American people might wish for a Secretary of State who is not viewed around the world as a liar.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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