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Torturing the Facts:

Our secretary of state’s tortuous defense of supposedly nonexistent CIA torture chambers in Eastern Europe was an acid flashback to Clintonian parsing.

Just as Bill Clinton pranced around questions about marijuana use at Oxford during the ’92 campaign by saying he had never broken the laws of his country, so Condoleezza Rice pranced around questions about outsourcing torture by suggesting that President Bush had never broken the laws of his country.

But in Bill’s case, he was only talking about smoking a little joint, while Condi is talking about snatching people off the street and throwing them into lethal joints.

“The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees,” she said.

It all depends on what you mean by “authorize,” “condone,” “torture” and “detainees.”

Rice also claimed that the United States did not transport terrorism suspects “for the purpose of interrogation using torture.” But, hey, as Rummy likes to say, stuff happens.

The president said he was opposed to torture and then effectively issued regulations to allow what any normal person – and certainly a victim – would consider torture. Alberto Gonzales et al. have defined torture deviancy downward to the point where it’s hard to imagine what would count as torture.

Under this administration, prisoners have been hung by their wrists and had electrodes attached to their genitals; they’ve been waterboarded, exposed to extreme heat and cold, and threatened with death – even accidentally killed.

Does Rice think anyone is buying her loophole-riddled defense? Not with the Italians thinking of rounding up CIA officers to ask them whether they abducted a cleric in Milan. And with Torquemada Cheney slouching around Capitol Hill trying to circumvent John McCain, legalizing torture at the CIA’s secret prisons, by preventing Congress from requiring decent treatment for U.S. prisoners.

As The Times’ Scott Shane reported last Wednesday, a German man, Khaled el-Masri, says he was kidnapped, beaten and spirited away to Afghanistan by CIA officers in an apparent case of mistaken identity in 2003. He is suing the former CIA chief George Tenet and three companies allegedly involved in the clandestine flights.

Masri, a 42-year-old former car salesman, was refused entry to the United States on Saturday. He had intended to hold a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, but ended up talking to reporters over a video satellite link, telling how he was beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs during five months in detention.

Masri said through an interpreter: “I don’t think I’m the human being I used to be.”

When Rice was a Stanford professor of international relations, she would have flunked any student who dared to present her with the sort of willfully disingenuous piffle she spouted on the eve of her European trip.

Maybe she figures that if she was able to fool people once with doubletalk about WMD, she can fool them again with doubletalk about rendition.

As chatter spreads about Condi as a possible presidential contender, we are left wondering, once more, who this woman really is. Is she doing this willingly, or is she hemmed in by the powerful men around her? As a former national security adviser who has had the president’s ear for five years, did she try to fight the appalling attempt to shred the Geneva Conventions, or did she go along with it? Is she doing Vice’s nefarious bidding on torture, just as she did on ginning up the case for invading Iraq?

As Condi used weasel words on torture, Hillary took a weaselly position on flag-burning. Trying to convince the conservatives that she’s still got a bit of that Goldwater Girl in her, the woman who would be the first woman president is co-sponsoring a Republican bill making it illegal to desecrate the American flag. The red staters backing this measure are generally the ones who already can’t stand Hillary, so they won’t be fooled.

The senator doing Clintonian triangulating is just as transparent as the secretary doing Clintonian parsing.

Speaking of silly masquerades, who does Samuel Alito Jr. think he’s fooling by presenting himself as a reasonable jurist? Here’s a guy whose entire career seems to be based on interfering with women’s lives. He wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, condoned the strip search of a 10-year-old girl and belonged to a conservative alumni club that resisted the admission of women to Princeton.All in all, a bad week for women – sheer torture to watch.

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