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Sweep it under the carpet

[ 2010-08-31 13:39]     字号 [] [] []  
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Sweep it under the carpetReader question:

Please explain the following sentence and “sweep-it-under-the-carpet ways” in particular:

Federal judges across the country are telling the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, that they want to see a clean break with the sweep-it-under-the-carpet ways of his predecessors.

My comments:

Eric Holder is the new Attorney General. Attorney Generals before him used to avoid dealing with difficult issues – that was their way of dealing with them. Federal judges across the country are now telling the new Attorney General: Don’t be like your predecessors. Don’t hide issues as your predecessors did.

In other words, don’t shy away from dealing with difficult issues. Tackle them head-on.

“Sweep it under the carpet” is an idiom derived from house cleaning. To sweep something dirty under the carpet is to hide it under the carpet, so that it won’t be seen, rather than pick it up and throw it in the dustbin.

The consequence of this practice is convenience (avoidance of any hard work) for the short term but in the long run, someone’s going to feel lumps underfoot when they walk on the rug. And sooner or later (sooner rather than later, I am afraid) the carpet, along with the whole room, is going to stink.

Anyways, figuratively speaking anything swept under the carpet is some embarrassing issue that you don’t want others to know about. The New York Times (August 30, 2007), for example, titled one of its editorials on the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers thus: Abu Ghraib Swept Under the Carpet.

Abu Bhraib is the prison where “the abuse, sexual assault and torture of prisoners” happened. The New York Times thought this scandal was “swept under the carpet” because the military courts decided to punish one low-ranking officer rather than confront the larger issue – that the abuses “grew out of President Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions and American law in handling prisoners after Sept. 11, 2001”.

We would have been hard pressed to think of a more sadly suitable coda to the Bush administration’s mishandling of the Abu Ghraib nightmare than Tuesday’s verdict in the court-martial of the only officer to be tried for the abuse, sexual assault and torture of prisoners that occurred there in 2003.

The verdict was a remix of the denial of reality and avoidance of accountability that the government has used all along to avoid the bitter truth behind Abu Ghraib: The abuses grew out of President Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions and American law in handling prisoners after Sept. 11, 2001.

The man on trial, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, was not a career officer. He was one of a multitude of reservists pressed into Iraq duty, many of them for jobs beyond their experience or abilities. A military jury of nine colonels and a brigadier general decided that he was not to blame for the failure to train or supervise the Abu Ghraib jailers and acquitted him on all charges related to the abuse. He was convicted only of disobeying an order to keep silent about Abu Ghraib. Even that drew only a reprimand, from an organization that Colonel Jordan presumably has no further interest in serving.

Alright, here are other media examples of things swept under the carpet (or mat, as a carpet is sometimes called in America; or rug, in Australia):

1. Physicians for Human Rights yesterday released a report documenting (while relying on heavily redacted material) that “medical professionals who were involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects engaged in forms of human research and experimentation in violation of medical ethics and domestic and international law.” To those paying close attention, the evidence suggesting that this occurred has long been clear. Today, The New York Times Editorial Page said this:

The report from the physicians’ group does not prove its case beyond doubt -- how could it when so much is still hidden? -- but it rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Those are just two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet.

When the history of the Bush era is written, the obvious question will be: what was done about the systematic war crimes, torture regime, chronic lawbreaking, and even human experimentation which that administration perpetrated on the world? And the answer is now just as obvious: nothing, because the subsequent President -- Barack Obama -- decreed that We Must Look Forward, Not Backward, and then engaged in extreme measures to carry out that imperial, Orwellian dictate by shielding those crimes from investigation, review, adjudication and accountability.

All of that would be bad enough if his generous immunity were being applied across the board. But it isn’t. Numerous incidents now demonstrate that as high-level Bush lawbreakers are vested with presidential immunity, low-level whistle blowers who exposed serious wrongdoing and allowed citizens some minimal glimpse into what our government does are being persecuted by the Obama administration with a vengeance. Yesterday it was revealed by Wired that the Army intelligence officer analyst who reportedly leaked the Apache helicopter attack video to Wikileaks -- and thus enabled Americans to see what we are really doing in Iraq and other countries which we occupy and attack -- has been arrested (Wikileaks denies the part of that report claiming that the whistle blower also leaked to it “hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records”). This latest episode led Der Spiegel today to decry Obama’s “war on whistle blowers” as more severe than the one waged by the Bush administration.

- A growing part of the Obama legacy, by Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, June 8, 2010.

2. Former dictator Desi Bouterse was elected president by parliament Monday, following weeks of jostling by opponents who sought to stop a convicted drug trafficker and ex-strongman accused of killing political opponents from returning to power.

His eyes brimming with tears, Bouterse thanked supporters outside parliament after he secured 36 votes in support of his presidency, thanks to a small party’s decision to back him in exchange for three Cabinet positions...

Bouterse is facing a long-delayed trial in Suriname for his role in the slaying of 15 political opponents during his regime in 1982, and some see his candidacy for president as an effort to halt the trial and push for immunity from prosecution.

In 2007, the former military dictator offered his first public apology for the 1982 killings, saying he accepted political responsibility for the deaths but denied involvement.

Bouterse first seized control of Suriname in a coup in 1980, five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down under international pressure in 1987, then briefly seized power again in 1990.

In 1999 a Dutch court convicted him in absentia of trafficking cocaine to the Netherlands, but he has avoided an 11-year prison term because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the Netherlands would restrict contacts with Bouterse to “functional necessities.”

We cannot sweep under the mat the fact that Bouterse has been sentenced to 11 years in the Netherlands for drug trafficking,” Verhagen said. “He is not welcome in the Netherlands unless it is to serve his prison sentence.”

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said Bouterse enjoys immunity as a head of state for the duration of his presidency. “As a result, the sentence can only be served once he has left office and it is possible to arrest him,” the ministry said in a statement.

- Former Suriname military dictator Desi Bouterse elected president in parliamentary vote, AP, July 19, 2010.

3. As he sat down in his office in New York yesterday, the hedge fund manager who filmed the moment a police officer clashed violently with Ian Tomlinson digested the latest revelations.

He has chosen to remain anonymous but has been observing events from across the Atlantic. Informed by the Guardian that the second postmortem had found Mr Tomlinson died not of a heart attack but abdominal haemorrhage, he said he was relieved he had stepped forward as a witness.

“Judging by the short amount of time that lapsed between him being hit and pushed to the ground and him collapsing and dying, it just seemed to be coincidental that it was called a heart attack,” he said.

“Now I'm glad I came forward. It's possible Mr Tomlinson’s death would have been swept under the rug otherwise. There was nothing except some witnesses speaking to the Guardian saying they saw him being beaten. But it was their statements versus the police. You needed something incontrovertible. In this case it was the video.”

- G20 death: ‘This might have been swept under the rug’ – eyewitness, The Guardian, April 18, 2009.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)