Before we accuse others of torture, remember we were good at it, too

NEWT GINGRICH put up a stout defence of US President George W Bush’s intervention in Iraq on Marian Finucane’s radio show on Thursday.

It was a fascinating interview in which he denounced torture, yet seemed to argue that it could be used in certain cases, such as in the event of the capture of a lieutenant of somebody trying to nuke a city.

Would it be justified to torture that person to get information in time to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people?

He was not asked whether he really believed there is credible evidence to suggest that anybody in Iraq is currently trying to set off a nuclear bomb in the United States, or anywhere else.

When it comes to torture, we had an example of a kind of torture being used to get information in this country not so very long ago, and there was hardly a squeak of opposition.

After Tiede Herrema, the Dutch industrialist was kidnapped in October 1975, the gardaí arrested a suspected member of the kidnap gang. He refused to answer questions, so he was transferred to Dublin.

On the way the Special Branch people stopped the car and questioned the man again, according to Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was a minister in Liam Cosgrave’s government at the time.

When the suspect refused to answer, the Cruiser noted in his memoirs: “They beat the shit out of him. Then he told them where Herrema was.” Was such conduct justifiable?

The Cruiser apparently thought so, but he realised that colleagues like Garret FitzGerald and Justin Keating might not agree. “I refrained from telling this story to Garret or Justin, because I though it would worry them,” the Cruiser added. “It didn’t worry me.”

It probably would not have worried most people in view of the satisfactory outcome, but the problem is that if you allow police to take the law into their own hands, you run the risk of ending up with a police state in which the most feared criminals will be the police themselves.

We had terrible excesses here in the early years of the State. The IRA announced that it was going to kill members of the Dáil who voted to make the unauthorised possession of a gun a capital crime during the Civil War.

Two Dáil deputies were shot on December 7, 1922, and the following day the Government took four of the more prominent republican prisoners and shot them as a reprisal, making it clear that henceforth it would be two for one.

Some months later, following the Civil War, the Special Branch of the day arrested the brother of the future Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, and his body was found in the Dublin mountains six weeks later.

Some of the things that happened here were much worse than anything yet published about Abu Ghraib prison in Bagdad. That does not mean people here cannot criticise what happened there, but we should be mindful of our own sordid history. Marian Finucane apparently tried to question Gingrich about his hypocrisy in trying to impeach Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair, but he sidetracked her by pretending the big issue in that affair was not Clinton’s moral conduct but that he committed perjury.

In reality, the whole thing was part of a plot to destroy Clinton politically. Whether he actually committed perjury is open to debate. Gingrich conveniently overlooked the fact that Clinton was exonerated by the jury consisting of the whole membership of the US senate at his impeachment trial. Nobody doubts that he tried to mislead people, but when it comes to such sexual matters gentlemen are expected to lie if anyone is so brazen to ask such questions. The questions should never have been permitted.

BEFORE Clinton came to trial, Gingrich was exposed as having engaged in similar activities with a member of his staff. He was forced to quit as speaker of the House of Representatives, which is generally seen as the second most powerful political position in the US.

The Republicans then elected Bob Livingston to take over as speaker, but before he could take office he was exposed for having had sex with more than a dozen women working in his congressional office. He had to resign before taking up the post.

In comparison with the perverted humiliation of prisoners and the sexual antics in which the prison guards engaged, and even videoed, at Abu Ghraib, Clinton’s frolics now seem like the antics of an innocent era. He is touring the United States publicising his memoirs, while the Republicans are engaging in a kind of sordid political flagellation on the high moral ground.

This week Jack Ryan was accused of throwing the race for the US senate seat in Illinois into prurient turmoil. He was the great white Irish hope, having already secured the Republican nomination to contest the November election against the Democratic nominee Barack Obama, the first Afro-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.

The Chicago Tribune undermined Ryan’s campaign, even though the newspaper has been noted for its support of Republican candidates over the decades. This goes back to even before that famous day in November 1948 when it came out with its front page blaring that Thomas Dewey was elected president, when the Democrat Harry Truman had actually been re-elected. The Tribune got together with a Chicago television station to sue for access to the papers of Ryan’s divorce case of 2000.

His ex-wife has been supporting his candidacy and they tried to keep the court proceedings secret, but a judge ordered otherwise. The court records showed that she accused him of dragging her to a bizarre sex club in New York, with “cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling”. He “wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching”, she informed the court.

Later he brought her to a club in Paris without telling her where they were going. “People were having sex everywhere,” she stated. “I cried. I was physically ill.” She added that he “became very upset with me, and told me it was not a ‘turn-on’ for me to cry”.

“I did arrange romantic getaways for us, but that did not include the type of activities she describes,” Ryan told a press conference on Monday.

“We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return. I think my character has been proven by this,” Ryan added.

“There’s no breaking of any laws. There’s no breaking of any marriage laws. There’s no breaking of the Ten Commandments anywhere. And so I think if that’s the worst people can say about me in the heat of a difficult dispute, I think it speaks very well about my character.”

The Republicans on their high moral ground are unlikely to agree with him, even if some of them do seem like a kinky lot. Their excesses of the Clinton era have again come back to haunt them, and they have brought politics to a new low. Bring back Bill!

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