Thursday, May 26, 2005
Yet consider these paragraphs—
People have been murdered, tortured, rendered to foreign countries to be tortured at a distance, sexually violated, imprisoned without trial or in some cases simply made to "disappear" in an all-American version of a practice previously associated with brutal Latin American dictatorships. All of this has been done, of course, in the name of freedom.
These two sentences are entirely in the passive voice. The reader is permitted not to notice who perpetrated these crimes. In fact, Herbert doesn't call them crimes; he calls them a "practice."1
At best this is flabby language. Call rewrite!
Agents of the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and the FBI have murdered, tortured, and sent people, including U.S. citizens, abroad to be tortured at a distance, raped them, imprisoned them without trial or in some cases simply made them "disappear" in an American version of crimes we used to associate with brutal Latin American dictatorships. The government did all of this, of course, in the name of freedom.
Isn't that a little clearer?
Herbert concludes his column with a quote—
"We're in this Orwellian situation," said Leonard Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, "where the statements by the administration, by the president, are unequivocal: that the United States does not participate in, or condone, torture. And yet it has engaged in legal interpretations and interrogation policies that undermine that absolutist stance."
"It has engaged in legal interpretations and interrogation policies that undermine that absolutist stance"? Here the commission of war crimes has been transformed into a bureaucratic snafu, replete with jargon.
With language like this it is no wonder that the relatively uninformed public doesn't react to the horror.
Of course, photos would be better than any language; the few photos from Abu Ghraib that leaked had dramatic effects. But the Pentagon, Congress and MSM suppressed most of them. Too "inflammatory."
So we are left with words. But the standard language of the MSM presents a confusing, blurred picture of the atrocities, and the writers are afraid to—or won't—identify the government leaders and agencies responsible—even when the responsibility is a matter of record.
That is the Orwellian situation we're in.
"The human cost of a fortnight in an embattled land" (1/17/05)