The US has now Institutionalised Torture as an Acceptable Everyday Practice
Reprinted From The CounterPunch Diary; By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
The US government would go to desperate lengths to counter accusations that its agents in the CIA or USAID practiced torture.|
One famous case was that of Dan Mitrione, working for the US Agency for International Development, teaching refinements in torture techniques to Brazilian and Uruguayan interrogators. Mitrione was ultimately kidnapped by the Tupamaro guerillas and executed, becoming the subject of Costa Gavras’ movie State of Siege. The CIA mounted major cover-up operations to try to discredit the accusations against Mitrione, quoted as having said to his students: "The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect."
The American liberal conscience began to make its accommodation with torture in June, 1977, which was the month the London Sunday Times published a major expose of torture of Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces and the security agency, Shin Bet. Suddenly American supporters of Israel were arguing that certain techniques – sensory deprivation, prolonged stress positions while hooded, incarceration in “cells” the size of packing crates, etc – somehow weren’t really torture, or were morally justifiable torture under “ticking time bomb” theory.
One US army officer, Janis Karpinski, described finding in Abu Ghraib a piece of paper stuck on a pole outside a little office used by the interrogators. It was a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld, authorizing techniques such as use of dogs, stress positions, starvation. On the paper, in Rumsfeld's handwriting, was the terse instruction, "Make sure this happens!!"|
James Bovard wrote on this site earlier this week that “Perhaps Bush’s most important legacy is his embrace of torture:”
“In a June 2010 speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he declared, ‘Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.’ There is no independent evidence that Bush-era torture saved any American lives.
“The fact that a former president can stand up in public and admit that he ordered torture is a sea change for the American republic. (While he was president, Bush consistently denied that the U.S. government engaged in torture.) … In reality, the Bush administration’s torture policies were simply the most vivid example of its belief that the president was entitled to do as he pleases. Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury declared in 2006, ‘Under the law of war, the president is always right.’”
On the home front torture as a drastic mode of social control flowered luxuriantly in the America’s prison system, whose population began to rocket up in the 1970s to its present 2.5 million total. Sanctioned male rape goes hand in hand with increasingly sadistic solitary confinement with prolonged sensory deprivation – a condition in which some 25,000 prisoners are currently being driven mad.
As the Bush years drew to a close liberals dared hope that the rule of law would return and with it respect for internationally agreed prohibitions on torture and treatment of combatants. Anticipation grew that the torturers, with the Bush high command at the apex, would face formal charges. Candidate Obama sedulously fanned that hope.
The moment of opportunity arrived on January 20, the day Obama was sworn in as president and declared that “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said. He added that the United States is “ready to lead once more.”
On January 21, 1977, on his first day in office President Jimmy Carter fulfilled his campaign pledge issuing a pardon to those who avoided serving in the Vietnam war by fleeing the U.S. or not registering. If he’d waited a month or two, the honeymoon was already turning tepid and he might well have lost his nerve.
On his second day in office In his second full day in office, President Obama signed a series of executive orders Thursday morning to close the Guantanamo detention center within a year, ban the harshest interrogation methods and review military war crimes trials.
“Enemy combatants” would not be afforded international legal protections, whether on the field of battle in Afghanistan or, if kidnapped by US personnel, anywhere in the world.|
The torture system is flourishing, and the boundaries of the American empire marked by overseas torture centers such as Bagram. There are still detainees in Guantanamo – as of November last year 174 of them. On January 7, 2011, Obama signed a bill barring inmates held there from being brought to the US for trial.
For the past seven months 22-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, first an army prison in Kuwait, now in Quantico, Virginia, has been held 23 hours out of 24 in solitary confinement in his cell, under constant harassment. If his eyes close between 5am and 8pm he is jolted awake. In daylight hours he has to respond “yes” to guards every five minutes. An hour a day he is taken to another cell where he walks figures of eight. If he stops he is taken back to his other cell.
Manning is accused of giving documents to Wikileaks. He has not been tried or convicted. Visitors report that Manning is going downhill mentally as well as physically. His lawyer’s efforts to improve his condition have been rebuffed by the Army. Accusations that his treatment amounts to torture has been indignantly denounced by prominent conservatives and some liberals. Gov. Huckabee and others have called for him to be summarily executed. After the columnist Glenn Greenwald publicized Manning’s treatment in mid-December, there was a moderate commotion. The U.N.’s top monitor of torture is investigating his case.
Meanwhile Manning fights for sanity in Quantico. He faces months, if not years, of the same. Will he end up like accused Chicagoan Jose Padilla, four years in total isolation and silence before his trial in 2007 (convicted as a terrorist and given 17 years) , with his lawyer informed by prison staff that Padilla had become docile and inactive to the point that he resembled “a piece of furniture.”
I wrote here last year:|
“The irony is that a moral debate is finally in motion over America’s horrifying sentencing laws. In New York State, the Rockefeller drug laws, which destroyed so many thousands of lives with mandatory sentencing, are being modified. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is courageously trying to coax into life a national commission to review the criminal justice system. Webb tells the Washington Post that cops and prosecutors often target the wrong people and says he believes society can be made safer while making the system more ‘humane and cost-effective.’ He flourishes a fine piece by Atul Gawande in the March 30 issue of The New Yorker stigmatizing solitary confinement (‘at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons’) as torture.”
That forecast sounds foolish now. But then, maybe I was assuming that a man I mistrusted from the day I clapped eyes on his speeches, would nonetheless improve the public tone on issues of torture and punishment. In fact Obama in this area as in so many others has merely given the ethics and practices of the Bush era his seal of approval.