The Bush administration and its defenders -- lost in the Bizarro Universe they have created for themselves -- have been using words like "incomprehensible" and "inconceivable" to explain away incontrovertible evidence of their malfeasance and incompetence.
These are fairly benign words, though, that indicate at best a kind of naivete but at worst (and most likely) a self-absorbed obtuseness bordering on stupidity.
But the president himself has been using a word with genuinely sinister connotations: "unacceptable":
- In speeches, statements and news conferences this year, the president has repeatedly declared a range of problems "unacceptable," including rising health costs, immigrants who live outside the law, North Korea's claimed nuclear test, genocide in Sudan and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Even more remarkably, he used the word to describe Colin Powell's criticism of Bush's military tribunals.
The word turned up again this weekend, this time in the context of a Kafkaesque case of an American citizen being sentenced to death by an Iraqi judge on the mere say-so of American government officials whose behavior was nothing short of outrageous:
- Lawyers for an American citizen facing execution in Iraq appealed Friday in U.S. federal court to keep the man in American custody -- preventing his death -- while another case is being appealed.
The citizen, Mohammad Munaf, was convicted and sentenced to death by an Iraqi judge earlier this week on charges he helped in the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, court papers show.
Iraqi-born Munaf, a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000, was working as their translator and guide. He maintains his innocence.
In an emergency request filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, Munaf's attorneys claim his rights to a fair trial in Iraq were violated when he was convicted without being able to present evidence in his defense -- or to see the evidence against him.
"This court's failure to temporarily halt Mr. Munaf's transfer to Iraqi custody will not only send Mr. Munaf to his death without due process, it will eviscerate ... core protections against arbitrary and lawless executive action," Munaf's attorneys wrote.
Scott Horton at Balkinization looked into the matter and found this:
- Yesterday afternoon I spoke with one of Munaf's American lawyers, and in the evening I discussed the case with one of the Iraqi lawyers who handled it. The judge, he said, had at a prior hearing informed defense counsel that he had reviewed the entire file and had reached a decision to dismiss the charges. "There is no material evidence against your client," he was quoted as stating. When two US officers appeared at the trial date with the prisoner, they reacted with anger when told of the Court's decision -- and made clear it was "unacceptable." One of these US officers purported to speak on behalf of the Romanian Embassy, which, he said "demanded the death penalty." (The Government of Romania has since stated both that it had no authorized representative at the hearing and that it did not demand the death penalty). They then insisted upon and got an ex parte meeting with the judge - from which the defendant and his lawyers were excluded. Afterwards an ashen-faced judge emerged, returned to his court and proceeded to sentence the American to death. No evidence was taken; no trial was conducted. The sentence was entered on the basis of a demand by the two American officers that their fellow countryman be put to death.
A couple of weeks ago, when Bush called Powell's criticism "unacceptable," Keith Olbermann lit into the president with all the outrage this kind of talk deserves:
- Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists.
Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.
What all of us will agree on, is that we have the right -- we have the duty -- to think about the comparison.
And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think -- and say -- what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right.
All of us agree about that.
Except, it seems, this President.
The problem with a government whose officials -- led by the president himself -- are in the business of declaring what is "unacceptable" goes deeper, I think, than just speech issues.
It's a word used by totalitarians, an arrogation of power unto themselves. A president, or his military, who can make life-and-death decisions based on what they deem acceptable or not is an executive branch wildly out of control, living in a fantasy world of their own making. And dragging the rest of us into their abyss.