Saturday, October 7, 2006

The latest on another scandal: Guantánamo Bay torture continues

While mís amigos have been keeping us up to date with fresh revelations of torture at Gitmo, as well as reminding us of CIA's tortured history (wanna know who inspired Pol Pot's use of waterboarding?), even more is coming out in this weekend's news cycle:
WASHINGTON: The illegal abuse of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba still continues, according disclosures in a sworn affidavit made by a U.S. marine, who visited the facility on a temporary assignment.

It said the guards at the base abused the detainees physically and mentally, including slamming one's head into a cell door and denying them privileges in order to instigate them. The document was made public Friday.

The Marine Corps sergeant stated in the affidavit the examples of such abuse included hitting detainees, denying them water, and removal of privileges for no reason. The affidavit was filed with the Pentagon's inspector general's office by Marine Lt Col Colby C. Vokey, one of the defense lawyers for an "enemy combatant" at the Guantanamo prison, who is facing trial by a military commission.

The affidavit, signed on Wednesday, is the latest in a series of revelations of abuse of detainees at the camp run by U.S. personnel.

The name of the sergeant, supposedly a female, has been blacked out. She has described an hour-long conversation with guards at a bar at the base on 23 September. The affidavit mentions the first names of those involved in the abuses. She specifically talks about a 19-year-old sailor, called Bo, who told her about beating different detainees in the prison. One such episode involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo had also told her such actions are known to other guards in the prison and that he had had no punishment.

Lt Col Vokey wrote in his note to Pentagon that the abuse explained in the affidavit is offensive and violates the U.S. and international law.


The affidavit said at least five guards admitted to hitting detainees. "From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice. Everyone in the group laughed at the others' stories of beating detainees," she wrote.
Most Americans, I would imagine, have an attitude akin to that expressed in an old Oingo Boingo song ("why should I care?" cuz after all "nothing bad ever happens to me"). Unable or unwilling to relate to the real harm done to the victims and their families in situations where the state can torture anyone at its leaders' whim with impunity - which is now the law of the land here in the Good Ol' U S of A - most of us go about our usual business of being good consumers without giving it a second thought. After all, torture "wouldn't happen to me or my loved ones", right?

Let's make this a bit more concrete and try what for the time being is a gedänken experiment - albeit one that could become a concrete reality now that none of us has habeas corpus to protect us:

Let's imagine that your son or daughter - still legally a minor - has been taken into custody by US authorities as an alleged terrorist suspect. This strikes you as odd, as about all your child ever seems to do is hang out with friends, perhaps goes to church, etc. Yeah perhaps the pastor at the church had a sermon a few weeks ago that, using Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as a starting off point, seemed critical of the current war; and yeah a couple of your child's friends seem to blog about how war sucks on their Myspace pages - but that never really seemed to interest your child. But now your child is in custody, and somehow you find out that your child will be transferred to a Gitmo-type facility for "questioning".

Got that scenario? Good. Now, ask yourself would you be okay with your child's being punched in the face as part of the questioning? Could you as a parent have a "good laugh" over that? How about if your child was being waterboarded? That okay with you? How about if your child (a minor as we mentioned before) is coerced into masturbating in front of senior military personnel, or perhaps is coerced into positions and behaviors that could at best be described as nonconsensual sadomasochistic sex - in other words, your child has just been raped or molested as part of the "questioning." Would you feel better if your government told you that you could "watch"? How about electrical current being run through your child's genitals? That cool with you? Could you as a parent trust the government to know what it was doing in taking your child and torturing her (or him) as after all this was a "different kind of war"? If you complained - even meekly - could you accept the Liebermanesque retort that you were merely following the whims of fashion? Would you finally begin to question the morality of your own government and the society in which that government is based?

I have said fairly little about the Mark Foley sexual predator scandal this past week or so, but in a way I see a connection. In both the case of Foley and his enablers, and in the case of recent Congressional legislation that makes torture the law of the land, we have a distinctly predatory mindset at work. There is for all practical purposes no difference between the mindset of a sexual predator and that of a torturer (or those elected leaders that willingly sign off on a torturer's bill of wrongs) - these people get off on having absolute power over others. In the process of harming the victim, they achieve at least temporarily a Nietzsche-esque Übermenschen status - that of man-god, omnipotent for the moment and perhaps the delusions of omniscience.

What's been going on at taxpayer expense to our Congressional pages is fairly concrete to those of us who are parents - if for no other reason than we know just how easy it is for some pervert to make advances on our kids via instant messaging, etc., and perhaps lure them in to meeting them in person. What Foley (with the help of his enablers in Congress) did was very concrete to us. What I want y'all to realize is just how concrete that same predatory reality is to those parents of torture victims, and to realize that it isn't some mysterious "other" that is tortured, but rather real human beings - many of whom have done absolutely nothing to warrant formal legal questioning in the first place (and none of whom would deserve to be tortured). Given that the reality of the torture victim is a concrete one, you as the reader have the opportunity - indeed the obligation - to empathize. With empathy comes the one faint hope we have of fighting the evil that is being done in our names by our government.

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