Jose Padilla

In his special comment about “sacrifice” last night, Keith Olbermann spoke of the way President Bush has been able to “deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Olbermann was addressing Bush’s reported plan to increase troop levels in Iraq and the ever-shifting purpose behind “this senseless, endless war”:

It has gotten many of us used to the idea — the virtual “white noise” — of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague “sacrifice” for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase “the war on terror.”

Whether by design or merely as the product of its authors, the war on terror has been absolutely mind-numbing. Its center shifts from one unfamilar locale to another, its evil villain is first one guy, then another and another, and even our most in-the-loop decision makers can’t tell the difference between the various parties involved.

Complicate all this with the obfuscatory tendencies of the military and the government, filter it though a news media more concerned with Britney Spears’ undergarment choices, and what chance does an ordinary citizen have at making sense of any of it? Finally, “to help us understand,” some polling organization or another questions the confused public at large, then feeds us back the answer in percentage form, followed by a new study on how poorly we’re doing in math.

I was reminded of these uncertainties as I began listening this morning to an NPR story about José Padilla. It was prefaced by an advisory from Morning Edition hosts Renée Montagne and Steve Inskeep concerning the pronunciation of Padilla’s last name.

Reportedly, his lawyer now says Padilla prefers the Spanish pronunciation of “pah-DEE-yah,” despite having pronounced it himself as “puh-DILL-uh” previously in court. Never mind that it was one of Padilla’s lawyers who insisted that the media switch it to “puh-DILL-uh” in the first place. This is all both confusing and somewhat amusing.

Neither confusing nor amusing at all was Nina Totenberg’s actual report on the odyssey of José Padilla thus far. No matter what he is being accused of — and the accusations keep morphing like everything else in the Bush war — the man is a United States citizen. If he can be treated this way, then any U.S. citizen can be treated similarly.

We last saw Padilla in a series of images presented by his legal team in December. This morning’s story is even more disturbing, both in terms of the abuse inficted on him (his attorneys say it has left him “like a piece of furniture”) and from the standpoint of the government’s dismissive posture:

The government maintains that whatever happened to Padilla during his detention is irrelevant, since no information obtained during that time is being used in the criminal case against him.

Read or listen to the story. It’s a bracing, confusion-clearing slap in the face.

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