Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Traitor who Wrote the Patriot Act

Earlier tonight, Amelia and I attended a speech at our school, Knox College, by John Ashcroft, former Attorney General of the United States and the man responsible for the Patriot Act. He also has the honor of being the only man to lose a Senate seat to an opponent who died prior to the election, the governor of Missouri who oversaw a 72% increase in incarceration rates in only seven years, the instigator of legislation that would have banned abortion, even in cases or rape and incest, and a leading perpetrator of waterboarding as an acceptable torture practice.

Ashcroft gave a fairly unremarkable speech, citing new technology as both an asset and a disservice to leadership, leaving many of his controversies unspoken. He did address the Patriot Act, attempting to explain its conception in the terrifying days following September 11th. Ashcroft is not a dumb man, he spoke about the Act in this context to play on the patriotism in the audience, and he recieved his most rousing applause during this portion of the speech. Unshockingly, he didn't mention how the Patriot Act weakens civil liberties in innumerable ways. Maybe he couldn't count the ways?

During his speech, many Knox students protested, covering their hands in red paint to symbolize the blood on Ashcroft and the Bush adminstration's hands, standing with their heads covered in black bags while wearing orange shirts, obvisously in refrence to torture victims, and even laying outside the speech in a way that directly reflected how waterboarding is used.

Many of the questions posed during the Q and A portion of the evening had to do with Ashcroft's involvement with the approval and use of waterboarding. What is waterboarding? It is a torture technique used by US officals that consists of strapping the victim down, wrapping plastic over the victims' face, tiltling his or her head back to simulate a gag reflex, and pouring water into the victim's mouth and lungs. It is drowning and causes all the damage drowning does: lung damage, brain damage, and extreme psychological damage.

Ashcroft skillfully avoided directly answering questions about the legality of waterboarding, but he was obvisously uncomfortable throughout, coming close to yelling at students and making jokes. I think it was these jokes which angered me most. When confronted about his own definition of torture, Ashcroft said his list of what consitituted cruel would be different than most; he would include attending a high school dance. Hardy Har Har. I love when powerful men compare drowning suspects to high school memories. Fucking hilarious, Johnny.

So what does this have to do with feminism? Maybe nothing, espically because his extreme stance abortion was not mentioned during his speech. But, because the mainstream newsmedia has ignored US torture techniques, it is the responsibility of the alternative press, such as blogs like this, to present the information. So we are.


Kate did a pretty good job covering the speech. I did find it rather unsettling how much he focused on new technology and its relation to weaponry, especially considering this was supposed to be a speech about leadership. He also did a pretty good job hyping up the United States, discussing about its multiple superiorities, be they political or religious (yes, he did throw that in there, indirectly).

But what upset me the most was his performance during the question and answer section. I realize that he must have been aware of the rather hostile environment he had stepped into - many people in the audience were visually protesting him during his speech - but he did not do very much to change my opinion of him or his policies by outright refusing to answer several questions and skirting the rest. He also responded to some of them in ways that I found very inappropriate. He challenged the validity of questions, for example, by calling out one asker who could not cite the exact date of an interaction the Ashcroft had recently had in Washington (I think it may have been this one, but I'm not sure because Ashcroft didn't really let the person ask their question without interruption). He also managed to dodge questions by twisting the background information provided by one student so that she contradicted herself.

I admit that some of the audience members were disrespectful at times (but only a handful of times), but I believe that Ashcroft, an experienced politician, should have known better than to react equally as disrespectfully. He made himself look bad by refusing to answer questions posed by college students who only wanted their voices to be heard.

And with regard to how this is related to feminism, check out this neat little list of Ashcroft's views on abortion. He also seems very heteronormative in his views, as he completely disregarded a question about the effects of his actions on the LGBTQ community.

Also, if you want to see some pictures I took of the people who protested his speech, you can view them here.


A local paper carried this article today; I felt that it was very anti-protesters, and it did not accurately portray Ashcroft's reaction (and dismissal) of many of the questions that students asked, even the ones that were not directly accusatory. And as for the article's last line, “The difference between you (the audience) and them is they don’t want to see. There are none so blind as those who don’t want to see," (about some protesting students with blood on their hands and hoods over their heads), someone else yelled out after that, "But they can still hear!"


Ryan Capuano said...

You guys are my heroes. Thank you for doing this and writing about it. Ashcroft was one of the worst offenders in the post-9/11 Bush cabinet and I'm glad you're touching upon this issue.

Lindsay said...

I hate Ashcroft and I use the word "hate" very, very rarely when it comes to actual people (assuming he counts as one).

One of the monologues read for "A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer" this year at my school was titled "A Web of Words" and it was just a bunch of somewhat related words. However, the placement of the words and delivery made it a powerful piece.

I didn't realize how gendered a lot of the words used for weapons or military functions really are.

Here's an excerpt: "Gang • Sect • Nation • Empire • Molotov Cocktail • IED • Patriot Missile • Peacekeeper Missile • “Big Boy” A-bomb • “Nuclear Hardness” • “Deep Penetration Capacity Bomb” • “Potent Kill Capability” • “Rigid, Hardened Silo” • “Erector Launchers” • “Thrust Ratios” • “Soft Targets” • Toy Gun • Toy Tank • Toy Missile"

It's called A Web of Words and it's by Robin Morgan

Andrew said...

Psh Technology. In 1940 the Third Reich had thousands of top of the line Messerschmidt Bf-109s and Focke-wulf FW-190s and threw them at the Brits. The Brits had a few hundred outdated wood-canvas and metal Hawker Hurricanes and a very few shiny new Spitfires (with pathetic engines compated the those fielded by Bavarian Motorwerks for the Luftwaffe). So I guess Mr Ashcroft would like to condone the use of war technology in general rather than the correct application?

I am so disgusted by all this. I am a HUGE military technophile (just ask Aimee). But the driving point of our military technology is supposed to be minimalizing risk to our own troops while increasing the strategic effectiveness of our tactical strikes; that is, using less munitions but accomplishing the bigger goals of the overall mission. The current administration has no desire to use these technologies for their ultimate purpose. We would honestly be better off (financially as well as strategically) busting out the B-52s with full 30 ton loads of dumb bombs. Carpet bombing for the win (lose?), either way the bombs would be killing people who did nothing to our nation, so why are we holding back by using surgical strikes?

Anyway enough from my jaded side, I'd be priceless to the ancient Chinese.

And to contend with Lindsey there are alot of representations within the field of military applications that do not portray negative gender roles on women. Almost all ships within all anglosphere navies are traditionally female in reference (even if named after a man) and most airmen refer to their planes as female. Also, the Massive Ordnance Air Burst (MOAB), is nicknamed the "Mother Of All Bombs". The U-2 Spy plane was codenamed the "Dragon Lady". And in the 1970s a highly unconventional bomber, the XB-70 "Valkyrie" was being tested, though it was canceled upon accidental destruction of both prototypes in an accident.

On a similar note though, during WWII gender roles were applied to Japanese aircraft by US Naval Command. The codenames were arranged so that fighter/scout aircraft were coded with male names for obvious reasons, and bombers/cargo/transport planes with female names, because these planes carry things, a traditionally feminine role.

For example the Mitsubishi A6M (Zero) was officially codenamed "Zeke". There was also the Nakajima E8N1 recon plane, "Dave", The Nakajima Ki-43 fighter, "Oscar"

The most prolific Japanese land based bomber was the Mitsubishi Mitsubishi G4Ml, "Betty" and the most common carrier bomber was the Aichi D3A, "Val" which is interesting because carrier bombers look very much like fighters and Val to me is a fairly gender nonspecific name... maybe its all in my head.

While thrust and penetration are both common elements in modern combat, and while those are both phallic terms, I don't believe it was anyone's intention to make these references integral to combat in an effort to monopolize warfare in the name of penises... I mean men.

Also are you really upset that Fat Man and Little Boy are both masculine? I think stupid needless overkill is a typically male trait, generally speaking. :-P

Lindsay said...

While some things have both male and female names, the majority of ship and planes are named after females. I think this assumes a level of possessiveness and control, something that could be very easily equated to the domestic sphere.

And ship/plane names are quite different from having very gendered, very threatening names for weapons. "soft target"? "erector launchers"? We live in a rape culture, and it's only reflected in those military weaponry names.

I also don't like the assumption that just because I post a comment about something (the gendered nature of military warfare), I'm upset. I just posted a comment about it. True, I hate John Ashcroft, but my dislike of him doesn't mean I hate everything about the military or that everything I post about comes from a female rage.

Andrew said...

Well to be fair the only time I used the word "upset" was in a satirical bit at the end. Please don't assume I felt you were in a female rage, so much as I was attempting to make a light hearted self-deprecating remark regarding the link between masculinity and destruction.

Colt said...

I think this man is a good man. The patriot act is a good idea. IMHO