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Maybe the Dumbest US Senator of the All

by BRUCE JACKSON

On Tuesday, May 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, whose report documents American atrocities and administrative failures of various kinds at Abu Ghriab prison; Stephen A. Cambone, the Defense Department undersecretary for intelligence, who worked very hard to keep from letting any responsibility for anything land anywhere; and Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, who looked the entire time as if he desperately wished he were anywhere else but where he was. The subject was torture, responsibility and accountability.

Some of the senators asked questions that elicited interesting and useful answers from the witnesses. An equal number asked questions articulating or staking out political positions regarding the Bush administration’s war in and occupation of Iraq. A few talked so long there was no time for any of the witnesses to respond.

But the remarks of Senator James M. Inhofe (R., Okla.) were transcendent. They were like the remarks of no other senator on that very large panel. His basic position seemed to be that since some Iraqis had done terrible things it was outrageous for anyone to be questioning Americans for having done anything terrible to anybody. If we have Iraqis locked up and if we are torturing them, they must deserve it, and it’s a shame and a scandal that we’re giving the Department of Defense a hard time over this trifle when they’re out there protecting the flag and whatever. The fact that we have those Iraqis locked up is all the proof we need of their guilt, so they are only receiving punishment they’ve earned. <Q.e.d>. It was straight out of the Inquisition Handbook.

Inhofe’s remarks were full of pomp and smugness; they were devoid of ethical sensibility. Listening to him was like listening to someone on his way home from a lynching 50 years ago: ‘They deserve what they get, whether or not they did what we said. They are what they are, aren’t they? If they weren’t, why would we have lynched them? Goddam right!’ If our enemies abroad were as interested in words as they are in photographs right now, Inhofe’s words would serve them as well as the Army reservists’ digital photographs from Abu Ghraib.

When the Senate debates issues like going to war and clamping down on civil rights, Senator Inhofe has a vote, just like the other 99 senators. Other senators have to be nice to him because if they offend him, he will vote against their porkbarrels; that is the way the Senate works. In the US Senate, nobody ever stands up and says, “The Senator from Oklahoma is a moron with no ethical sensibility whatsoever and he should never again be permitted to vote on any issue the outcome of which might bring harm to any human being, and he surely should never be permitted to appear on television because he brings shame on this body and on the entire nation with the banality and amorality of his remarks.” They don’t do that, even though they may think it, as I’m sure many of them must, since they’re not all brain-dead. What they do instead, is they refer to one another as “the distinguished this” and “the distinguished that” and they go to parties and have a lot of drinks.

Here are Senator Inhofe’s May 11 remarks in their entirety. I suppose any foreigner reading them would think we live in a country ruled by vengeful, self-righteous goons. I assume they would be as puzzled as everyone else by Senator Infoe’s final question about the barbershop, the blindfolded man, and the AK-47. All three witnesses and all the senators in camera range except Lindsey Graham looked as if they were trying to keep their faces straight when Infoe posed it. Graham just did weird things with his mouth and rocked back and forth in his chair, as he did during Inhofe’s entire performance.

SENATORE INFOE:

First of all, I regret I wasn’t here on Friday. I was unable to be here but maybe it’s better that I wasn’t because as I watch this outrage — this outrage everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners — I have to say, and I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.

The idea that these prisoners — you know, they’re not there for traffic violations. If they’re in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners — they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

And I hasten to say, yes, there are seven bad guys and gals that didn’t do what they should have done. They were misguided. I think maybe even perverted. And the things they did have to be punished, and they’re being punished. They’re being tried right now and that’s all taking place.

But I’m also outraged by the press and the politicians and the political agendas that are being served by this, and I say political agendas because that’s actually what is happening.

I would share with my colleagues a solicitation that was made. I’m going to read the first two sentences.

“Over the past week we’ve all been shocked by the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, but we have also been appalled at the slow and inept response by President Bush which has further undermined America’s credibility.”

And it goes on to demand for George Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld. And then it goes on to a time line, a chronology.

INHOFE: And at the very last — and they say, “a solicitation for contributions.”

I don’t recall this ever having happened before in history.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that this solicitation be made a part of the record at this point.

WARNER: Without objection.

INHOFE: Mr. Chairman, I also am — I have to say when we talk about the treatment of these prisoners that I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisons.

When he was in charge, they would take electric drills and drill holes through hands, they would cut their tongues out, they would cut their ears off. We’ve seen accounts of lowering their bodies into vats of acid. All of these things were taking place.

This was the type of treatment that they had — and I would want everyone to get this and read it. This is a documentary of the Iraq special report. It talks about the unspeakable acts of mass murder, unspeakable acts of torture, unspeakable acts of mutilation, the murdering of kids — lining up 312 little kids under 12 years old and executing them.

Then, of course, what they do to Americans, too. There’s one story in here that was in the — I think it was the New York Times, yes, on June 2nd. I suggest everyone get that and read it. It’s about one of the prisoners who did escape as they were marched out there blindfolded and put before mass graves and they mowed them down and they buried them. This man was buried alive and he clawed his way out and was able to tell his story.

And I ask Mr. Chairman, at this point in the record, that this account of the brutality of Saddam Hussein be entered into the record and made a part of the record.

WARNER: Without objection, so ordered.

INHOFE: I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do- gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying, and I just don’t think we can take seven — seven bad people.

There are some 700 guards in Abu Ghraib. There are some 25 other prisons.

INHOFE: About 15,000 guards altogether and seven of them did things they shouldn’t have done. And they’re being punished for that. But what about some 300,000 have been rotating through all this time, and they have — all the stories of valor are there?

Now, one comment about Rumsfeld: A lot of them don’t like him. I’m sorry that Senator McCain isn’t here because I just now said to him, “Do you remember back three years ago when Secretary Rumsfeld was up for confirmation?” I said, “These guys aren’t going to like him because he doesn’t kowtow to them. He is not easily intimidated.” I’ve never seen Secretary Rumsfeld intimidated. And quite frankly, I can’t think of any American today as qualified as Donald Rumsfeld is to prosecute this war.

Now — oh one other thing: All the idea about these pictures, I would suggest to you any pictures — and I think maybe we should get direction from this committee, Mr. Chairman, that if pictures are authorized to be disseminated among the public, that for every picture of abuse or alleged abuse of prisoners, we have pictures of mass graves, pictures of children being executed, pictures of the four Americans in Baghdad that were burned and their bodies were mutilated and dismembered in public. Let’s get the whole picture.

Now, General Taguba, many, many years ago, I was in the United States Army. My job — I was a court reporter. I know a little bit about the history. The undue command influence that is a term that you’ve heard — and I’d like to make sure that we get into the record what that is.

I’m going for memory now, but it’s my understanding that commanders up the line can possibly serve as appellate judges. Consequently commanders up the line are not given a lot of the graphic details, but merely said, as in the case of Rumsfeld, “Serious allegations need to be investigated,” and they start an investigation. This is back in January.

Now, Rumsfeld said, and I’m quoting him now, “Anything we say publicly could have the impact on the legal proceeding against the accused. If my responses are measured, it is to assure that pending cases are not jeopardized.”

INHOFE: Do I have an accurate memory as to why they have this particular undue command influence provision that we have been following now for five decades that I know of?

TAGUBA: Sir, I’m not a lawyer, and…

INHOFE: Isn’t that reason you were called in? Well, I should ask General Smith.

General Smith, isn’t that the reason that General Taguba was brought in the first place, to keep this from happening?

SMITH: Yes, sir. To do the investigation and do the fact- finding, so the commanders could make informed decisions on what actions should be taken thereafter.

And the difficulty in the command influence piece is that, should General Sanchez or should I or General Abizaid say something along the lines that, “We must take this action against these individuals,” then that is command influence down the line that those that are making judgment on them would influence and bias their decisions.

INHOFE: And that, sir, has not changed for the last 45 years.

SMITH: That has not changed. And that has happened — we have had a number of folks that have — their sentences or whatever have been impacted by command influence.

INHOFE: Mr. Chairman, one last question to General Smith.

All kinds of accounts are coming out now, many of are fictitious, I would suggest. One was about a guy being dragged out of a barber shop — it was in The Washington Post this morning. They talked about the person doing this had AK-47s, was blindfolded.

Are our troops issued AK-47s?

SMITH: They are not, sir. *

INHOFE: Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Chairman.

WARNER: Thank you very much, Senator.

* A followup question, which Senator Inhofe had no interest in asking, was,
“Even though they’re not issued them, do they use them?” The answer to that would have been “Yes.” See the August 24, 2003, A.P. story, “U.S. Troops Use Confiscated Iraqi AK-47s”

BRUCE JACKSON, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo, edits the web journal BuffaloReport.com. He is the author of Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues and “Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me”:Narrative Poetry from Black Oral Traditon. Jackson is also a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: bjackson@buffalo.edu

 

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

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