Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 11:46 pm
|Dan Clore: 'Dubya's doublespeak'
By Dan Clore, Infoshop News
The mass media have paid little significant attention to President George W. Bush's (mis)use of language. Most coverage of the subject has focused on moronic mispronunciations like "nucular" or illiterate idiocies such as "misunderestimate", portraying the Commander in Chief as a tongue-tied buffoon for its humor value. But Bush's misuse of language has a far more serious dimension.
George Orwell, in his renowned dystopian novel 1984, coined the terms Newspeak and Doublethink to describe the perversion of language employed in propaganda by regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels theorized the "big lie". But the Bush administration employs Doublespeak on a level that would leave Orwell goggle-eyed and inarticulate in astonishment, and astound Goebbels with the sheer brazenness of its dishonesty.
Prime examples of Bush's use of Newspeak occur in his domestic policies. Take his use of the term "frivolous lawsuit". In law, this term refers to manifestly insufficient and spurious legal actions, to cases so weak that they cannot be taken seriously. The law provides a remedy for them, too: the judge throws the suit out of court. In especially blatant cases, the judge can also impose fines on those bringing the frivolous suit. According to statistics, corporations file several times as many frivolous lawsuits as individuals do. In the Bush administration's usage, on the other hand, the term refers to meritorious suits against corporate wrongdoings and malpracticing physicians. Bush proposes remedying them by putting caps on the damage awards in meritorious cases.
After promising not to raise payroll taxes for Social Security, Bush has proposed raising the tax cap on payroll taxes. When challenged on the issue, the White House argued that this did not constitute a raise in taxes, as the rate would remain the same, only the cap being raised.
Multitudinous examples of Doublespeak occur in the titling of legislation under the Bush administration. The USA PATRIOT Act removes protections for citizens' privacy and civil liberties, violating some of the country's most dearly-held values; the Clear Skies Initiative allows corporations to commit an increased amount of air pollution; the Healthy Forests Initiative prevents forest fires by cutting down the old growth trees that survive the fires while smaller plants burn; the No Child Left Behind Act cuts spending on education and requires schools to give students' personal information to military recruiters (perhaps the intent is that none be left behind when Bush sends troops to war); and on and on.
In a few rare cases, Dubyaspeak actually shows signs of subtlety. In debates over Social Security (which, as Bush warned in 1978, will go bankrupt and belly up by 1988), Bush favors private, individual accounts over the general government trust fund. But the public tends to react badly to the term "private account", associating it with various instances of privatization that have amounted to hand-outs for corporate profit at the expense of the general public. The term "personal account" has no such negative connotation. So, even though the two terms refer to precisely the same thing, the Bush administration has removed "private account" from its vocabulary and has taken to correcting those who continue to use it.
Other examples show far less subtlety. Bush's Justice Department has argued repeatedly that harsh interrogation practices, referred to as "stress and duress" tactics, used in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, such as sleep deprivation, confining suspects in painful, contorted positions, and threatening suspects with attack dogs, do not cause enough pain to amount to torture. In the State Department's annual Human Rights Report for 2005, however, the same or similar practices are labeled "torture" when countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea commit them. (The annual report does not, of course, include the USA in its scope, though it covers every other country in the world.)
Attorney General John Ashcroft boasted that "375 people have been charged in terror-related cases over the past three years and 190 have been convicted or pleaded guilty." In fact, only a handful of these cases involved terrorism-related charges; most concerned minor, unrelated infractions, bringing only days or weeks in prison as punishment. In the case of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, the charges included running a charity, Help the Needy, that donated food and medicine to Iraqis in violation of sanctions against the country. (The judge in the case did not allow the defense to raise the issue of terrorism, as it had no relation to the charges.) Dhafir's primary crime appears to have been attempting to bypass the corrupt Hussein regime in his efforts to distribute relief directly to the Iraqi people.
War-makers typically tend towards extensive use of Newspeak, and many of the most striking examples of Dubyaspeak come from the invasion and occupation of Iraq, referred to as a part of the "war on terror" even though Iraq had no known links to terrorism against the US. Take, for example, the term "preemptive strike". In ordinary usage, this refers to a strike against an enemy about to launch a strike against you. In Dubyaspeak, it refers to an attack against a country that not only did not plan to attack, but which had no capacity to commit an attack, or even to defend itself. In short, it refers to a war of aggression pure and simple.
To help cement support for the invasion of Iraq, Bush referred to an "Axis of Evil" composed of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The term "axis" normally refers to a political association and military alliance, such as that of the "Axis Powers" of WWII: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperialist Japan. But Bush's "Axis of Evil" instead includes two countries hostile to each other, Iraq and Iran, and a third with no relationship to either.
Again, Dubya has created a most remarkably novel definition for the term "illegal combatant" or "enemy combatant", both coined by his administration ex nihilo, with no existence in law. According to the Bush administration itself, many of those referred to by these terms are in fact neither enemies nor combatants. Brigadier General Martin Lucenti told the Financial Times that "Most of these guys weren't fighting. They were running." He further admitted that in most cases, there was not even any evidence to establish their membership in an enemy group like the Taliban or al-Qaida. In a sworn statement, a commander of the 320th Military Police Battalion said that "the majority of our detainees were detained as the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were swept up by Coalition Forces as peripheral bystanders during raids." The International Committee of the Red Cross reported military intelligence estimates that 70-90% of the prisoners at the scandal-ridden Abu Ghraib prison had been captured by mistake.
Before a federal court, Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle explained that an "enemy combatant" might be a "little old lady in Switzerland" who donated money to charity, not realizing that the purported charitable group passed money on to terrorists. In another hypothetical case, the term could apply to an individual who taught English to a member of a terrorist group, without any knowledge of their membership in the terrorist group or of why they desired to learn the language. According to Boyle, the US breaks no laws by slapping this admittedly-false label onto individuals suspected of no wrongdoing, depriving them of all the rights granted to suspected criminals or prisoners-of-war, and whisking them away to a concentration camp abroad, where they will spend years being tortured (or rather, subjected to "stress and duress" interrogation tactics) to reveal information they cannot know.
Another facet of the Bush administration's looking-glass logic relates to these prisoners. The "release" of these suspects includes cases in which they are transferred to prisons in other countries -- countries like Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Uzbekistan, where they will most likely face torture as well as continued imprisonment.
As with domestic Dubyaspeak, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have spawned a number of examples that display a certain degree of subtlety in their warped logic. For example, the Fallujah general hospital metamorphosed into a "propaganda outlet" for the "insurgents" when it released information on casualties, and thus converted itself into a military target.
The phrase "rebuilding Iraq" provides another interesting example. Bush asked congress to pass a nearly $87 billion bill to help "rebuild Iraq". The bill actually earmarked only about $20 billion for reconstruction efforts; most of the rest -- $66 billion -- went to military and policing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A further hint at the extraordinary definition given to "rebuilding Iraq" arises from the fact that the administration spent some $8.5 million of this money to repress peaceful anti-FTAA protests in Miami, Florida. Taking place in November 2003, police attacked crowds of union members, senior citizens worried about their Social Security benefits, and journalists covering the event, with batons, tazers, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and lead pellets. Another $25 million went to similar anti-demonstration efforts at the G-8 meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, held in June 2004. According to the Bush administration, spending tens of millions of dollars this way falls under the scope of "rebuilding Iraq" because suppressing domestic dissent is part of the "War on Terror".
The words "terrorism" and "terrorist" themselves take on expanded and self-contradictory meanings in the Bush administration's usage. Terrorism has been re-defined to include acts of vandalism, property damage, and eco-sabotage, and so groups such as Earth First! and ELF (Earth Liberation Front) have been pegged as eco-terrorists, even though they have carefully avoided all harm to human beings. These groups distinguish between property damage and violence against persons, a distinction that the government does not wish to maintain -- though it does not consider corporate destruction of the environment any sort of crime at all, much less "terrorism". Meanwhile, as Bush brags that he has prevented all terrorist attacks on the "homeland" since 9/11, the FBI and police use ever-expanding powers, granted by "anti-terrorist" legislation, against such frightening "terrorist" threats as graffiti artists.
Dubya's Doublespeak seems to have no bound. Indeed, the Bush administration has managed to surpass regular Doublespeak and create Meta-Doublespeak. When the GAO (Government Accountability Office) ruled that phony news stories planted in the mass media in order to drum up support for Bush administration policies violate laws against "covert propaganda", the Bush administration issued memos to the effect that such stories, which do not disclose their government origins and are designed to look like reports by independent journalists, nonetheless pass the test, as they merely convey information. -- The Bush administration's Doublespeak falls under the heading of objective fact, by definition.
Dan Clore works as a freelance writer. His collected fiction appeared in 2001 as The Unspeakable and Others. His nonfiction appears in university-library reference works.
Reprinted from Infoshop News:
http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.p ... 9192522985
"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac
"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."
~Harry S. Truman