The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It depends on what the definition of abuse is... is.

If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard a conservative respond to debate on any given political debate with a smarmy reference to "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" and "I did not have sex with that woman," I'd have a pretty nice wad of bills by now-- and undoubtedly keep receiving payments for years to come.

But the aggravation of hearing those two phrases used as an "argument" against everything from domestic spending to a couple of botched wars just reached a new plateau today. The WaPo has the story:

[Two senior DOJ] officials spoke in a telephone call arranged by press officials at the Justice Department after The Washington Post disclosed yesterday that the FBI sent reports to Gonzales of legal and procedural violations shortly before he told senators in April 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" after 2001. [. . .]

But [one of them] defended the 2005 statement by Gonzales that he was unaware of civil liberties abuses related to the government's counterterrorism effort. Wainstein cited what he described as a dictionary definition of "abuse" in defending Gonzales's remark. [. . .]

[He] said Gonzales was saying only that there had been no intentional acts of misconduct, rather than the sorts of mistakes the FBI was self-disclosing. "That is why I cited the definition of 'abuse,' which in Webster's . . . implies some sort of intentional conduct. And I think that is sort of the common understanding of the word 'abuse,' " Wainstein said.

The War Room points out that aside from the blatant lawyerly sleaze of this tactic, it just plain doesn't hold up: (which draws its definitions from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary) lists six definitions of the word abuse as a noun, only one of which -- labeled "obsolete" -- includes a reference to intention. also labels the one definition of abuse that refers to deceit as "obsolete."

So instead of being 'the common understanding' of the word abuse, language specialists clearly single it out as the least common understanding of the word. But still the most useful for evading justice.