The whole let-it-happen attitude toward torture has now become a fiasco for
the Bush administration and, unfortunately, all of America's efforts on
behalf of promoting human rights in the world. It is clear to anyone
connected to the Middle East that the United States' engaging in direct
acts of torture and abuse - playing the same game as torturers and
assassins from actual terrorist networks - plays perfectly into the
arguments of death-to-America recruiters.
Lately it's been one anti-American hit after another. First the
administration attacks the Koran toilet-flush desecration story, published
in Newsweek without reliable source; but then the Pentagon accepts a report
detailing the reality of multiple instances of Koran desecration. It was
far too documented a story to pin on Newsweek reporters simply getting
ahead of themselves. Death-to-America demonstrations were going before and
after the Newsweek story appeared.
In any case, along comes Amnesty International, which hooks up with
congressional and other press testimonies that now reveal increasing
numbers of incidents - horrendous stories - of people imprisoned, tortured
and killed by U.S. personnel. As it turns out, innocent people were held in
torture and beating sessions for days and weeks.
One big question is why are such occurrences so widespread over the combat
areas if it was not tolerated, suggested or even ordered? The worst feeling
is that nobody yet knows the full extent of it - how many secret camps, how
many torture jails, how many "rendition" partners in other countries to
whom we presently outsource prisoners, those places where torture and
extra-judicial killing take place routinely.
The American war on terror is not a pretty picture. Americans, once
indignant victims, now have the deep and widespread reputation as careless
and brutal killers of many innocent victims in Afghanistan and Iraq, among
other places. Investigations and attempts at justice are slight, by
comparison to the damage done to people and to the image of America in the
world when restrained prisoners are beaten to death.
Justice does not seem an important commitment, as U.S. military personnel
are exonerated in all manner of careless and panic-caused tragedies where
often whole innocent families are nearly exterminated and seldom is anyone
held accountable. For the kinfolk and fellow nationals of innocent victims,
this is cause for great hatred and calls for revenge that can go on for
An American gulag, Amnesty International called the U.S. complex of
military and intelligence institutions that hold prisoners - apparently
guilty until proven guilty - without right of review or release. While
Amnesty International may have overstated the comparison, Guantanamo, Abu
Ghraib, the other secret prisons and out-sourced mercenary jails in
Afghanistan and other places might in fact represent only the tip of the
The American public is simply not being informed. At this point the United
States begins to appear frighteningly similar to the autocratic regimes in
Germany and the Soviet Union that America's "greatest generation" bravely
fought against and defeated.
Too many stories are out now to ignore the use of torture and murder by
U.S. forces who thought they were doing their duty. In particular, the
administration's clumsy response to very damning incidents tends to
heighten the dread. Add to this scenario the same administration's
mysterious, black hole theory of human detention, where a faceless military
industrial system can make you a living (or dead) desaparecido, disappeared
from public life based on one's expressed views or associations. Under the
new national security climate, this is perhaps not a huge problem yet; but
predictably, as secret "black budget" government entities are wont to grow,
this murderous piece of bureaucracy will grow as well.
Many of us who covered Central American societies just before and through
the years of brutal civil wars and the wars of extermination in Guatemala
remember the years of the desaparecidos, when death squads in dark-tinted
SUVs scoured the country and the barrios of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El
Salvador and Honduras, and organized government terror was unleashed on
group after group of organized workers including teachers, social workers,
poverty program administrators, nurses and others who worked with the poor
and indigenous communities.
Once police action began to include the execution and torture of prisoners
under the assumption of guilt, the worst of brutal passions were unleashed
under a general, army-guided permission to kill, maim and terrorize whole
communities of innocent civilians. In Guatemala, the war was directed at
the annihilation of whole Maya Indian communities and a stated genocide was
carried out intensely for some eight years, and gradually consistently over
nearly 30 years.
Some of the same people who now guide or have guided international U.S.
operations, such as John Negroponte, national intelligence czar and former
ambassador to Honduras, are no strangers to the down and dirty tactics of
protracted insurgency and counter-insurgency wars. This is a team that is
certainly tough and which will press the aggressive execution of war in the
Muslim theatre. Deeply ideological hawks, they are worth watching as well
as worth keeping an eye on, as surveillance and detention can become
weapons of repression as well as weapons of national defense.
The North American press and all media are challenged to facilitate the
debate on this issue, which is about protecting the right to follow your
own reason (without violence) within the citizenship contract of the United
States of America. Can we agree to at least fight for this right in this
"land of the free and home of the brave"?