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  RE: virus: Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth
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   Author  Topic: RE: virus: Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth  (Read 629 times)

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RE: virus: Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth
« on: 2006-02-06 16:41:55 »
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[Blunderov] Recent home conversations have often centred on language and its
relation to power; the Politburu is reading a most interesting book called
"Empire of Words" and it provides much grist for conversation.

This piece is similarly thought provoking I think.

Best Regards.


Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth

Behind the US Government's corruption of language lies a far greater
perversion, writes Salman Rushdie.

BEYOND any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English
language last year was "extraordinary rendition". To those of us who love
words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its
intent to deceive.

"Extraordinary" is an ordinary enough adjective, but its sense is being
stretched here to include more sinister meanings that your dictionary will
not provide: secret; ruthless; and extrajudicial.

As for "rendition", the English language permits four meanings: a
performance; a translation; a surrender - this meaning is now considered
archaic; or an "act of rendering"; which leads us to the verb "to render"
among whose 17 possible meanings you will not find "to kidnap and covertly
deliver an individual or individuals for interrogation to an undisclosed
address in an unspecified country where torture is permitted".

Language, too, has laws, and those laws tell us this new American usage is
improper - a crime against the word. Every so often the habitual newspeak of
politics throws up a term whose calculated blandness makes us shiver with
fear - yes, and loathing.

"Clean words can mask dirty deeds," The New York Times columnist William
Safire wrote in 1993, in response to the arrival of another such phrase,
"ethnic cleansing".

"Final solution" is a further, even more horrible locution of this
Orwellian, double-plus-ungood type. "Mortality response", a euphemism for
death by killing that I first heard during the Vietnam War, is another. This
is not a pedigree of which any newborn usage should be proud.

People use such phrases to avoid using others whose meaning would be
problematically over-apparent. "Ethnic cleansing" and "final solution" were
ways of avoiding the word "genocide", and to say "extraordinary rendition"
is to reveal one's squeamishness about saying "the export of torture".
However, as Cecily remarks in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest,
"When I see a spade, I call it a spade", and what we have here is not simply
a spade, it's a shovel - and it's shovelling a good deal of ordure.

Now that Senator John McCain has forced upon a reluctant White House his
amendment putting the internationally accepted description of torture -
"cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment" - into American law, in spite of
energetic attempts by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, to defeat it, the
growing belief that the Bush Administration could be trying to get around
the McCain amendment by the "rendition" of persons adjudged torture-worthy
to less-delicately inclined countries merits closer scrutiny.

We are beginning to hear the names and stories of men seized and transported
in this fashion: Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian, was captured by the CIA on
his way to the US and taken via Jordan to Syria where, says his lawyer, he
was "brutally physically tortured".

Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Kuwaiti-Lebanese origin, was kidnapped
in Macedonia and taken for interrogation to Afghanistan, where he says he
was repeatedly beaten. The Syrian-born Mohammed Haydar Zammar says he was
grabbed in Morocco and then spent four years in a Syrian dungeon.

Lawsuits are under way. Lawyers for the plaintiffs suggest their clients
were only a few of the victims, that in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and
perhaps elsewhere the larger pattern of the extraordinary-rendition project
is yet to be uncovered. Inquiries are under way in Canada, Germany, Italy
and Switzerland.

The CIA's internal inquiry admits to "under 10" such cases, which to many
ears sounds like another bit of double-talk. Tools are created to be used
and it seems improbable, to say the least, that so politically risky and
morally dubious a system would be set up and then barely employed.

The US authorities have been taking a characteristically robust line on this
issue. On her recent European trip, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza
Rice, more or less told European governments to back off the issue - which
they duly, and tamely, did, claiming to have been satisfied by her

At the end of December, the German Government ordered the closing of an
Islamic centre near Munich after finding documents encouraging suicide
attacks in Iraq. This is a club which, we are told, Khaled al-Masri often
visited before being extraordinarily rendered to Afghanistan. "Aha!" we are
encouraged to think. "Obvious bad guy. Render his sorry butt anywhere you

What is wrong with this kind of thinking is that, as Isabel Hilton of The
Guardian wrote last July, "The delusion that officeholders know better than
the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of
an imperial cast of mind are especially prone . When disappearance became
state practice across Latin America in the '70s it aroused revulsion in
democratic countries, where it is a fundamental tenet of legitimate
government that no state actor may detain - or kill - another human being
without having to answer to the law."

In other words, the question isn't whether or not a given individual is
"good" or "bad." The question is whether or not we are - whether or not our
governments have dragged us into immorality by discarding due process of
law, which is generally accorded to be second only to individual rights as
the most important pillar of a free society.

The White House, however, plainly believes that it has public opinion behind
it in this and other contentious matters such as secret wiretapping. Cheney
recently told reporters, "When the American people look at this, they will
understand and appreciate what we're doing and why we're doing it."

He may be right for the moment, though the controversy shows no signs of
dying. It remains to be seen how long Americans are prepared to go on
accepting that the end justifies practically any means Cheney cares to

In the beginning is the word. Where one begins by corrupting language, worse
corruptions swiftly follow. Sitting as the Supreme Court to rule on torture
last month, Britain's law lords spoke to the world in words that were simple
and clear. "The torturer is abhorred not because the information he produces
may be unreliable," Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said, "but because of the
barbaric means he uses to extract it."

"Torture is an unqualified evil," Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood added.
"It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished."

The dreadful probability is that the US outsourcing of torture will allow it
to escape punishment. It will not allow it to escape moral obloquy.

Salman Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, Fury and many other

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