Miss Universe's Excellent Adventure
Editor’s Note: After the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States would go to the “dark side” to fight the war against terrorism, but that sojourn into the world of brutality, lies, torture and murder ran parallel to the other world of happy Madison Avenue images and “feel-good” sentimentality about the American Way.
But there are times when those two worlds collide, like when Miss Universe visited Guantanamo Bay, as Michael Winship recounts in this guest essay:
"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in." That was Frederick the Great of Prussia's take on the pain of being royalty.
Just ask Queen Elizabeth II and Michelle Obama. When they briefly touched one another at Buckingham Palace Thursday, a moment of contact that was more gentle pat than hug, you would have thought the First Lady had challenged Her Royal Highness to pistols at 20 paces. What a breach of protocol!
What a world. Luckily, Buckingham Palace jumped into the breach to announce, "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation," and besides, the Royal Press Office said, it was at an
informal reception - thus convincing the media on both sides of the Atlantic to unclutch their smelling salts.
But if you needed further proof that the Earth is off its axis, spinning toward the sun, there came the news that another crowned head, Miss Universe, had paid a visit to Guantanamo Bay. Yes, courtesy of the USO, Venezuela's Dyanna Mendoza hit the beach for her personal remake of "Baywatch," visiting the no doubt startled troops there and touring the Gitmo facilities.
Because there apparently is a higher power with a sardonic sense of humor - thank you! - Ms. Mendoza kept an Internet diary in which she told the world about boat rides and a trip to a beach covered with bits of colored glass.
"It was a loooot of fun!" she wrote. "We ... met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills... We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how they recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, book... I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful."
OK, Miss Universe, no doubt a more permanent stay could be arranged, your innocence notwithstanding. But you just might have to give up the swimwear competition two-piece for something in an orange jumpsuit.
I wish I were making this up. So does the Miss Universe organization, owned by General Electric's NBC Universal and Miss Congeniality himself, Donald Trump. They quickly took down Mendoza's blog entry and replaced it with an official statement supporting our armed forces. Smooth move, considering the news that keeps breaking about how the detainees at Guantanamo were treated by the Bush-Cheney team.
Mark Danner and The New York Review of Books recently obtained a confidential report from the International Committee of the Red Cross describing the treatment of many detainees as torture. In detail, the report describes how Abu Zubaida, whom President Bush proclaimed was al-Qaeda's chief of operations, was waterboarded and often confined to a coffin-like black box (Of the 92 video tapes the CIA recently admitted they destroyed, all but two were of Zubaida's detention and interrogation.)
He told the Red Cross, "I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room."
And for what? The front page of last Sunday's Washington Post reports that in all probability Zubaida was not the high-powered operative U.S. intelligence thought he was and that, quote, "Not a single significant
plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions."
In the words of the Post's Dan Froomkin, "The most charitable interpretation at this point of the decision to torture is that it was a well-intentioned overreaction of people under enormous stress whose only interest was in protecting the people of the United States. But there's always been one big problem with that theory: While torture works on TV, knowledgeable intelligence professionals and trained interrogators know that in the real world, it's actually ineffective and even counterproductive. The only thing it's really good as it getting false confessions."
Some speculate that the real motivation is retribution; the irrational lust to get even that drives us to intentional cruelty. The Obama administration is declassifying memos and other documents on the detention and interrogation policies adopted after 9/11.
Executive orders from the President suspended military commissions at Guantanamo and ordered the prison there closed within a year. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed to reporters that the Obama White House has dropped the phrase "war on terror."
But despite that semantic sleight-of-hand, the war goes on, and 241 men remain in the cells of Guantanamo, their stories already becoming forgotten in a world where Miss Universe searches the sandy beach for pieces of pretty glass, awestruck by military dogs and the beautiful sea.
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.
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