Let’s talk American public responsibility for torture and Iraq
Gen Miller suggests reorganising the prisons so that the guards help the interrogators “set the conditions for … successful interrogation”.
It was following his visit that torture and humiliation by the guards began in earnest. Prisoners were hooded, threatened with rape, threatened with torture, had pistols held to their heads, made to strip naked, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, beaten till they bled – sometimes with implements, including a broom and a chair – hung from doors by cuffed hands, deceived into thinking they were to be electrocuted, ducked in toilet buckets, forced to simulate masturbation, force to lie naked in a pile and be photographed, urinated on, menaced and, in one case, severely bitten by dogs, sodomised with a chemical light, ridden like horses, made to wear women’s underwear, raped, deprived of sleep, exposed to the midday summer sun, put in stress positions and made to lie naked, in empty concrete cells, in complete darkness, for days on end.
Here is another:
The worst may be to come. Little has yet emerged about conditions inside the prisons run by the US in Afghanistan, where eight deaths in US custody remain unexplained, and an internal military report remains unpublished. In an essay accompanying the documents, Danner draws attention to the language of one of the official investigators of Abu Ghraib, James Schlesinger, who wrote in his report of “five cases of detainee deaths [worldwide] as a result of abuse by US personnel”. Danner points out that Schlesinger could as easily have written: “American interrogators have tortured at least five prisoners to death.”
Hussain Adbulkadr Youssouf Mustafa, a teacher of Islamic law with Palestinian citizenship, describes how he was arrested in Pakistan, in May 2002, handed over to the Americans and taken to Afghanistan.
While at Bagram air force base, Hussain said, he was blindfolded, tightly handcuffed, gagged and earplugged and sodomised with a stick while three soldiers held him down. “It was excruciatingly painful,” said Hussain. “I have always believed that I am not a person who would scream unless I was really hurt. Only when the pain became overwhelming did I think I would ever scream. But I could not stop screaming when this happened. This torture went on for several minutes, but it felt like hours, and the pain afterwards was almost as bad as anything I experienced at the time.”
Feel free to read the rest.
Now, let’s talk a little about Iraq. We don’t know how many people died in Iraq. Why? Because the US didn’t count, and did its best to make it impossible for anyone else to count either. We don’t know the number of orphans, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands (one of the readers of this blog, MFI, will probably supply a good estimate.) The killing is ongoing. Every week, even the Western press covers some bombing or massacre killing dozens, and every day people are killed, tortured, and raped in less newsworthy fashion.
Now let’s talk about Democracy. In the the year 2000 A.D. the United States elected George Bush, a man who as a child was known, at the time of his election, to have blown up frogs by putting firecrackers in them. This is, if you’re unaware, one of the classic childhood signs of psychopathy. Electing Bush was malfeasance, but let’s be honest: he stole the election. I know it, and anyone who’s taken the time to properly investigate what happened in Florida and the Supreme Court, who can also add and subtract, knows it.
So up until 2004, the rest of the world kept saying “it’s not America, it’s not Americans.”
In 2004 America re-elected Bush. An argument can be made that that election was stolen too, though not as blatantly as the 2000 election (I was almost part of writing a book on the subject but the publisher decided Americans didn’t care.) But let’s examine that. If the election was stolen, it was stolen by a few hundred thousand votes.
About 122,349,000 Americans voted in the election. Even assuming fraud, 61 million Americans voted affirmatively for a vicious war based on lies, and for torture (and that America was torturing was widely known by 2004). Now, one can make the argument that about 97 million Americans didn’t vote. But not voting is a choice, it is a choice that says “I don’t care that the US is torturing people enough to go out and vote.” Again, you can finding mitigating arguments: voter suppression, that the vote takes place on a working day, etc… but those arguments don’t add up to 97 million.
America said, in 2004, “we don’t care about torture, it’s just not that important to most of us.”
A lot of people will hate this post. Every time I write something like this I’m told some version of “I opposed it” or “grow up many of us opposed it.”
But Americans did have the right to vote against Iraq and Torture. They didn’t. It may be that Kerry would have kept torturing, it may be that Kerry would have continued the Iraq war for as long as Bush (and as incompetently). But the question was not even put to the test: Americans did not, when it matters and where it matters, in the ballot box, say “we don’t agree with torture and war.”
For that matter, Democratic Primary Voters in 2004 did not vote for the most anti-war candidates. Instead they went with Kerry. The opposition party nominated a man who had voted for the war (albeit a man who said he’d made a mistake doing so.)
This does not mean YOU personally are responsible for Iraq. Probably, if you read this blog, you were against it. It does not mean you personally were for torture, again, my readers are mostly against torture and vote that principle. But it does mean that the rest of the world judges the US by the 2004 election: because you didn’t take that chance to repudiate Bush.
The consequence of not repudiating Bush in 2004, by the way, is that Obama has substantially continued with Bush’s policies. Oh, to be sure, there’s probably less torture than there was (though force feeding prisoners you know to be innocent, while keeping them in solitary confinement and refusing to free them is pretty heinous), but in its place, Obama has gone whole hog on drone killing, killing far more people than Bush did. Obama, and Washington, concluded from 2004 that most of the stuff Bush did you don’t really care, just as DC concluded from the fact that there were no mass protests in 2000 when the Republicans and the Supreme Court stole the election that Americans don’t really care about democracy, and that the form of it is generally sufficient. (Well, except for Republicans elected by tea-partiers, because tea-partiers have guns and threaten to use them. Republicans are terrified of their base.)
The flip side of responsibility, and many readers won’t understand this, because by now they’ll be so defensive or outraged they can’t think clearly, is that it implies power. If you have responsibility, you have power. If you have a democracy in the United States, then that means Americans as a group don’t just have the responsibility for what happens, they have the ability to change it.
Now, of course, one can argue that the US is NOT a functioning democracy. I think that argument is, right now, credible, though it does need to be made, and cannot be assumed. If that is your argument, if you believe that American citizens are effectively subjects and that democracy is dead in the US, then you can also argue that Americans are not responsible for what happened in Iraq, for torture, or much of anything else. (Though, of course, it begs the question of “was the US a democracy and if it was are Americans responsible for losing that Democracy?”)
But if you believe you don’t live in a democracy: if you believe that change cannot come through politics, then you’ve got bigger problems.
This argument about responsibility is an important one, and it touches on many different countries throughout the world. It also has to do with the question of consumer politics: of choosing from a slate of candidates and policies chosen by the elites, rather than creating your candidates and polices, and the question of whether that creation is possible (for example, when primaries are not actually open or can be nullified by leadership, is a state actually democratic?)
That point then touches on the character of the people of a nation and of the changes in the character of developed nations and is too big to go into now (though should my book every come out, it is something I’ll go in to there.)
A people who do not control their own politics will have someone else do it for them. If they are not willing to do the work to keep control, then they will lose everything: their liberty, their prosperity, their democracy, and in many cases, their very lives. Along the way, if those people are the citizens of the hegemonic power, millions of people will suffer and die.