Sunday, June 19, 2005


Am I wrong to think it's awfully convenient that just as we're having a serious discussion of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, the front page of The New York Times has a story telling us that U.S. troops have found a torture chamber run by Iraqi insurgents -- and that the troops also discovered a surviving victim of the torture (who, alas, won't allow himself to be photographed, or even allow his wounds to be photographed)?

I don't think Steve is wrong. You'd have to be awfully naive not to notice that this article comes less than a week after Sen. Dick Durbin spoke on the Senate floor about torture at Guantanamo.

And the righties are having a field day with it, already.

Betsy, the "history and civics teacher from Raleigh, N.C.," is fairly glowing with outrage:

How inconvenient for the whole template of "Americans are torturers" storyline that we have uncovered a true torture chamber in Iraq. For those who are working themselves into knots trying to find a new historical parallel for supposed American evil now that Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot are so last week, perhaps they could read this story and think a minute about true evil.

Well, Betsy, sorry to burst your bubble, but there isn't a single act of torture committed by those insurgents that hasn't also been committed by American soldiers, reservists, or Marines.

Electric shocks to the genitals? We've done that.

Flogging, or beating, for extended periods of time? We've done that.

Handcuffing prisoners? Handcuffing would be a step up from being chained hand and foot to the floor in a fetal position, for 18-24 hours. It would be a step up from being chained by your wrists to the top of your cell for the better part of four days, too.

Torturing prisoners to death? Yeah, that, too.

Other things that have been done to detainees in U.S.-run detention centers:

Betsy says "there are 'how to' manuals for these guys." She forgets that we have our torture manuals, too.

And, says Betsy, these evil insurgents didn't even torture their captives for good reasons.

[One of the tortured Iraqis] spent a short time in the new Iraqi army and quit. For that, they kidnapped him and tortured him day after day. Not trying to get any information out of him, but just because they could and because they are evil. This is whom we're fighting.

So torture is okay if you're doing it to "get information"? Even though there is absolutely no value to any information gained through torture? Torture is an inherently unreliable way to get information. By definition. People will say anything to stop pain. So that excuse for torture -- that it's okay if you're doing it to get information and not "just" for the fun of it -- is bullshit.

The Bush cheerleading section is also all agog over Mark Steyn's column in the Chicago Sun-Times. Steyn accuses Sen. Durbin of "slandering his own country" (as opposed to slandering another country, which would be less objectionable, I suppose) and slings the tired old "I question his patriotism" canard.

First things first. You cannot be slandering anyone or anything if what you are saying is true. And despite the single-minded focus on Sen. Durbin's Nazi/Stalin/Pol Pot comparison, the substantive issue is the brutal and degrading treatment of detainees at Gitmo and other U.S.-run prisons. Durbin's comments about that treatment are absolutely true. No slander there.

Second, Sen. Durbin is a patriot. It is Mark Steyn whose patriotism is open to question. What kind of patriot would keep silent about government policies that violate everything this country stands for, just so the United States will not look bad to the world? We already look bad to the world, and it's because we torture detainees, not because a small number of very brave and patriotic individuals are pointing out that we torture detainees. What kind of human being, not to mention what kind of American, would tell a United States senator who speaks up on the Senate floor about the importance of staying true to our own values that he is harming his country's image? If Mark Steyn believes that it's more important for the rest of the world to have the perception that the U.S. treats detainees humanely and in accordance with international law than it is for the U.S. to truly treat detainees that way, then he is not the patriot he thinks he is.

Steyn says that nobody has died in Gitmo. That's true; however, detainees in U.S. custody have died -- at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram, and almost certainly elsewhere. There's no way to know how many, because the vast network of detention and interrogation centers around the world (yes, I know saying gulag would be more concise, but shhhh! can't use that word!) operates in almost complete secrecy.

Even more to the point, if this country starts defining its humanity and sense of justice by whether we have killed as many people as the world's worst regimes, we have already lost the battle for the moral high road. "We can sodomize them and electric shock them and beat them, but as long as we don't kill them, we are better than the Nazis or Pol Pot" may, on the most literal level, be true -- but it is not a stance that can be called ethical, or moral, or in keeping with our own standards.

1 comment:

jiri said...

Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!