There are a couple of reminders of the incredible importance of language in the news lately. The first is the Darfur situation in Sudan. Nobody in the US government can call it what it is, genocide, because making such a declaration would legally compel us to do something about it, and we don’t have the troops or motivation to help out.
On Tuesday, President Bush took some questions from the press and he was adamant on the subject of torture:
Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country. We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.
This statement might have some meaning if we hadn’t witnessed over the past three months a number of attempts by the Bush administration to define torture downward. When it’s obvious that the word torture doesn’t mean the same thing to President Bush or his administration that it means to most other people, what meaning does his seemingly absolute statement really have?
And if torture isn’t part of our soul and our being, then why the hell have we tortured and murdered people all over the world since 9/11? President Bush would do well to admit that the capacity for torture is a part of every human’s soul and being, and only self control and careful supervision can prevent people from indulging the darker aspects of our nature.