Skip to content

Meet the “Good Americans” Who Made America Synonymous With Torture

2009 November 2
by Ian Welsh

When I read the details which have come out of the Hamdan and Padilla trials about how these two men were treated when in US custody, I don’t think “America did this”. America did this is far too bloodless. Specific men and a few women did this. Although the stain spreads over everyone who calls themselves American and those of your allies who often cooperated, everything that was done was done by specific people. They were not done by George Bush, they were not done by Cheney, they were done by American men and women.

So, when I read that, for example:

Hamdan’s defense team later revealed that Banks testified that Hamdan, apparently under such threat, had begged interrogators not to rape his wife or kill his family

I don’t think that America did it, though America did. I think that specific men did that. I read of, say Special Forces psychologist Col. Morgan Banks, and how he went to Afghanistan to use his SERE training, meant to help special forces resist terror, instead to set up interrogation. Instead to break men. I wonder how that happened, how a man who probably became a psychologist because he wanted to help people, became a monster. Oh, please, don’t argue otherwise. I’m sure he’s nice to his family. I’m sure he doesn’t kick dogs. I’m sure he loves America. I’m sure he wanted to avenge 9/11. Nonetheless if he did what we have every reason to believe he did (of course, his testimony is secret), he’s a monster.

Same thing with all the other interrogators, with the lone exception of the FBI interrogators, who were forbidden by John Ashcroft from engaging in torture. Ashcroft disgraced himself with Padilla, but even so, Ashcroft showed there were lines he wouldn’t cross. And so, until he was replaced, one organization in the US didn’t torture.

For 3 years, in other words, Ashcroft stopped the FBI from torturing. Think on that for a moment.

And then we’re back at the trial. And there is a judge who agreed to work under these military tribunal rules. I am sure, at night, he tells himself that he had to, because if it was not done by him it would be done by someone worse than him. Maybe he’s right, certainly the human rights observers have had little but good things to say about him. Still, he is a judge presiding at a trial where evidence obtained through torture is used; at a trial where the accused cannot face his accusers; the judge at a trial where hearsay evidence is allowed—the judge at a trial where even if Hamdan had been acquitted he would not be released. He’s a show trial judge, in other words, presiding over what everyone knows is a travesty of justice. He has loaned his name, Keith Allred, to this. He treated it seriously, as if it was worthy of his respect. He did not refuse to participate. And perhaps he’s right. Perhaps good men must participate in evil that it might be slightly less evil, and perhaps he is that good man, that good American, who makes a mockery of justice less harsh than it might be by participating.

This is the argument that some of the generals leading Vietnam made, that many will make about Iraq. “I knew it was wrong, a mistake, and immoral to boot. But if evil be done, better it be done by me that I might try and limit the damage, then that it be done by those foolish or fallen enough to believe it was actually the right thing to do.” Perhaps they are right, perhaps damning themselves is what they had to do. But I do not think that they can be other than damned, that their sacrifice is anything but their honor. They have not just looked into the Abyss, they have walked into it. And the price is, can only be, a piece of their soul. For us to respect their decision, indeed, requires that we see the evil they have done.

The same is true of the prosecutors. The same is true of “square jawed, calm and with a dry sense of humor” Robert McFadden, a special investigator with the Navy.

I find myself with some sympathy for these men. Still I find that I cannot but think that they have failed their first duty, which is not to their superiors, not to the President, but to the US constitution and what it stands for. I find that they have failed their basic duty to humanity.

I find that they are complicit in torture, in indefinite detention. I find that they have deliberately aided the destruction of justice, have aided the Bush administration in rolling back legal rights a full millenium, or more.

The “I was just following orders” was not acceptable to us in Nuremburg. It cannot be acceptable now. Yes, there are consequences to not following orders. But it’s the choices we make that define us. If following orders is more important to you than not being involved in torture, indefinite detention, the right of the accused to see the evidence against them—then you have made a statement about who you are.

And cooperation is needed by men like George Bush. It can be active cooperation, like that of the torturers, judge and prosecutors. It can be passive cooperation, as when “impeachment is off the table”, but cooperation is needed.

Still, one person can sometimes make a difference. John Ashcroft, immensely flawed as he is, made a difference. Comey made a difference. Fitzgerald made a difference.

Many men, there in Guantanamo, make Cheney and Bush’s policies possible through their cooperation. They do not resign, do not protest, do not refuse, at least, to actively cooperate. They are the men who made Bush’s America possible. Without men like them, he could have done nothing.

And so I really do wonder what the price of honor, integrity and morality is?

And I hope they were paid that price. A man who sells his soul should get his reward.

One and all, whether they were those who broke Hamdan by threatening to rape his wife and kill his family, they are complicit in that. One and all, whether they tortured anyone, they are complicit in torture.

They are the men who made George Bush’s America.

(Yet another reprint.  I am, in fits and spurts, moving articles which I feel have some lasting value, over to this site).

Comments are closed.