Torture in the USA

Bush and torture, cartoon

There is a new animation by Mark Fiore on the Internet.

Here it is.

Its subject is the controversy in United States politics about the torture policies of the Bush regime.

A US major reveals the inside story of military interrogation in Iraq. By Patrick Cockburn, winner of the 2009 Orwell Prize for journalism: here.

US interpreter who witnessed torture in Iraq shot herself with service rifle: here.

Torture and Washington’s policy of aggressive war: here.

27 thoughts on “Torture in the USA

  1. The artist abroad
    These torturers have names

    By Luis H. Francia
    First Posted 08:31:00 04/27/2009

    NEW YORK, United States—That the legacies of the Bush administration continue to plague us hardly qualifies as news, given that that incompetent, immoral, and warmongering gang left office barely four months ago.

    The Bushies seem to have been blessed with an inordinate talent of messing up just about everything, whether it was the economy or health care or foreign policy. Perhaps it’s time for GOP to stand for Grand Old Poop? Grand Old Piracy? Gut Our Principles?

    In certain circles of course the Bushies did just about everything right—extremely to the right, to be precise. But the revelations of the past days still provoke outrage. I refer to the disclosure of the CIA “torture memos” recently declassified that had been drawn up by top-level legal minds in the Bush administration, essentially providing legal cover so that operatives in the field, in Guantanámo and Abu Ghraib, for instance, could apply techniques of interrogation that would otherwise have been classified under US policy as torture. The legalisms also permitted Bush and Cheney to declare with straight faces that the United States does not torture.

    Several reports, all independent of each other, show up these policies for what they are: pretexts for barbaric behavior that contravenes the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory. These reports have documented specific cases of US-sanctioned torture.

    In 2004, there was of course the report filed by General Antonio Taguba (a Filipino and now retired from military service) on abuses at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison that scandalized the world and photographs of which provided the ranks of violent jihadist groups with eager recruits.

    The journalist Seymour Hersh has consistently analyzed, especially in his book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, how complicity in the highest reaches of government resulted in wrongheaded policies such as preemptive strikes and the abominations at Abu Ghraib.

    In 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross gave us another window onto these practices that have a long and repulsive history. So does a just partially released report by the US Senate Select Armed Forces Committee.

    The Red Cross document provides detailed accounts of torture inflicted on fourteen “high-level detainees” over extended periods of time. Denying of course, that it sanctioned torture, the Bush administration preferred seemingly innocuous terminology as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “extreme interrogation,” or simply “an alternative set of procedures,” ones that were deemed safe and that complied, according to Bush, with “our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations.”

    What exactly were these “procedures,” a word so generic as to apply equally to filing for a driver’s license and to putting the screws on some hapless individual? Among them were wall-slamming, prolonged sleep deprivation, sensory overload (e.g., extremely loud rock music), water-boarding, and being shackled to the ceiling, unable to sit, for days on end.

    In one case, knowing that a detainee had a rather intense dislike for bugs, Central Intelligence Agency interrogators enclosed him in a box filled with creepy, crawly things (non-toxic caterpillars, apparently). Whoever thought that up surely owes a debt to George Orwell.

    While Dubya maintains a discreet silence, not so with the unrepentant and clueless former vice-president. Dick Cheney has been busy defending the torturer’s arts and claiming that their use prevented terrorist attacks the past seven years. The man won’t however disclose any specifics, on the grounds that such information is, you guessed it, “classified.”

    But here’s the twist: As an official who fetishized secrecy, he now wants more memos declassified that, he claims, will support his and the Bush administration’s contentions. I must hand it to Tricky Dick. He makes no apologies for his aggressive defense of torture, just as he makes no apologies for his having gotten six (or was it seven?) deferments for draft duty during the Vietnam War, since he had better things to do.

    So a man who had no combat experience (unless you count hunting ducks and shooting at friends), and no stint as an interrogator (except presumably for grilling his underlings) in effect claims there was no choice but to violate constitutional principles in order to defend them. One gets the feeling that Cheney ceaselessly communes with—salaams to—his Inner Torturer.

    Yet interrogation experts are virtually unanimous in assessing torture as a highly unreliable source of information. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2002 declined to be involved in the CIA’s questionable interrogation tactics since its agents felt disturbed by such methods.

    In an April 23rd New York Times Op-Ed piece, Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, undermined the claims of the exculpatory legal memos by pointing out how he and another FBI agent using traditional methods from March to June 2002, had interrogated the high-ranking terrorist Abu Zubaydah, who provided them with “actionable intelligence.”

    Yet, one of the memos, issued in August 2002, gives the green light for torturing him, as it claimed the previous methods hadn’t worked. The FBI director himself, Robert Mueller III, who’s been at the helm of the agency since 2001, when asked whether the brutal tactics had disrupted any planned attacks, declared to Vanity Fair last year: “I don’t believe that to be the case.”

    Both the justification of torture at the highest levels of government and its use in the field have historical precedents that go at least as far back as the Philippine-American War, and most likely to the genocidal wars against Native Americans.

    Torture is not an aberration in American policy, as a lot of people would like to think; on the contrary, it has been a feature of its conduct against its enemies, particularly when they are of a different hue. And the arsenal of reasons deployed today echo those deployed more than a century ago, in the dusty plains, swampy terrain, jungles, and rural hamlets of an archipelago that had forged from the shackles of Spanish colonialism a fledgling republic.

    Filipinos fighting the United States were simply savages, uncivilized, in dire need of an “education,” to be administered from the barrel of a gun, through fire and water—the latter proving to be an exemplary method of instruction, gifting mute prisoners with speech.

    In testimony before the Senate Committee on the Philippines in 1902, Governor General William Howard Taft (a huge man at 340 lbs and with a belly that looked liked he himself was a beneficiary of the water cure) describes how the lesson was applied: “…water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows. …”

    An eyewitness, a Sergeant Leroy Hallock, gave a more graphic description: “They would swell up—their stomach [sic] would swell up pretty large—and I have seen blood come from their mouth [sic] after they had been given a good deal of it.”

    In more than a century neither the mission nor the tools have changed much. The unspoken assumption remains the same: that the foe (more often than not, a foe of color) is less than human, and therefore unworthy of being accorded humane treatment.

    The question now being raised is: Should those who tortured be prosecuted? If not, what about those who wrote the memos justifying the use of torture? No one, however, seems to be asking out loud about the men who approved the memos and thus set into motion the whole shameful machinery for degrading humans and depriving them of their civil liberties, for adopting policies that systematically betrayed the principles upon which the country is supposedly built on and in defense of which it decided to wage war.

    In a larger sense, it isn’t just the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and wherever else detainees are held without due process, but a whole nation that has been tortured in the aftermath of 9/11, a body politic upon whom countless and mean-spirited indignities have been visited. One might even say without too much exaggeration that large swaths of the globe have also been tortured.

    If anyone needs to be civilized and humanized and educated, it is Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Gonzalez and their cabal of willing hired guns. Let a Truth Commission be formed. Let a hundred lawsuits be brought before the appropriate tribunals. Let them be given their day in court—unlike the war dead and the unjustly detained.
    Copyright L. H. Francia/ 2009


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