I was shocked that one of the questions in President Bush’s press conference last night, the CBS White House correspondent asked a question about extraordinary rendition:

Mr. President, under the law, how would you justify the practice of renditioning, where U.S. agents who brought terror suspects abroad, taking them to a third country for interrogation? And would you stand for it if foreign agents did that to an American here?

Let’s look at President Bush’s answer and count the lies.

That’s a hypothetical, Mark. We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they’re not going to torture the people.

President Bush fell back on his usual stance of not answering hypotheticals in responding to the question of whether he would stand for another country kidnapping Americans and sending them off to be tortured. The second sentence is just a lie. We send people to places like Afghanistan where they are tortured by Americans. (See the case of Khaled el-Masri for more.) Furthermore, is a country saying that they won’t torture people really all that’s needed? Iraq said it didn’t have weapons of mass destruction — we didn’t take their word for it. It’s a bit disingenuous to rely on the word of Syria or Egypt when they say that they won’t torture the people we send there for interrogation (especially when we keep doing it after people who we have sent there inform us that they were, in fact, tortured). Not that this requires such detailed inspection, everybody knows that it’s a pathetic attempt to evade responsibility.

But let me say something: the United States government has an obligation to protect the American people. It’s in our country’s interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm’s way. And we will do so within the law, and we will do so in honoring our commitment not to torture people. And we expect the countries where we send somebody to, not to torture, as well. But you bet, when we find somebody who might do harm to the American people, we will detain them and ask others from their country of origin to detain them. It makes sense. The American people expect us to do that. We — we still at war.

Ignore all of the propaganda about his responsibility to protect the American people. Anybody “might” do harm to the American people, and indeed, at least a few of the people subjected to extraordinary rendition were no more likely to harm Americans than you or I. Again he says he expects countries to which people are rendered not to torture people — an odd statement given that there is no other reason to practice extraordinary rendition in the first place. Finally, he tells a big lie in saying that they are being detained in their countries of origin. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was sent to Syria (where he was born but had not lived since 1987). Khaled el-Masri was a German citizen of Lebanese origin who was sent to a prison in Afghanistan. I’d love to provide more examples, but the list of people who we have kidnapped and shipped around the world is secret.

One of my — I’ve said this before to you, I’m going to say it again, one of my concerns after September the 11th is the farther away we got from September the 11th, the more relaxed we would all become and assume that there wasn’t an enemy out there ready to hit us. And I just can’t let the American people — I’m not going to let them down by assuming that the enemy is not going to hit us again. We’re going to do everything we can to protect us. And we’ve got guidelines. We’ve got law. But you bet, Mark, we’re going to find people before they harm us.

This is a dirty slur against people who care about human rights. It’s not that I don’t think there are terrorists who want to kill Americans, it’s that I don’t think it’s right to kidnap people and send them to foreign prisons where they’ll be tortured under the supervision of CIA interrogators. This sort of Manichean thinking infuriates me. I realize that there could be costs to upholding human rights, I wish that the people who are in favor of torture could acknowledge that there are costs to that stance as well.

What amazes me is the tightrope that President Bush tries to walk. He spends half his time saying that these people aren’t being tortured (or if they are, it’s not because we wanted that way), and the rest of the time making it clear that he thinks that we have to protect ourselves by any means necessary. Both sides of the argument are completely dishonest, but that doesn’t stop him from making them.