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I just received an object lesson into how easily we Americans are able to compartmentalize our principles and our sense of basic human decency.
My father, David Lindorff Sr., who is 89, recently took a bad fall, hitting the back of his head on the bedpost and suffering a concussion that has temporarily left him with some periods of confusion. In the rehab facility where he was recovering, he would sometimes, when he was tired and half-asleep, get confused about his location, and would try to climb out of the hospital bed he was in, putting him at risk of another serious fall.
I asked the nurse in charge of the floor, and later also asked the head of the facility, if he could perhaps have a safety strap placed over him so that he would not be able to inadvertently hurt himself, and in both cases received a shocked reply: “We do not restrain our patients here. That would be a kind of torture! We are a restraint-free institution.”
The revulsion in the director’s voice at the notion of even gently restraining a patient like dad in a bed for his own protection was so evident I was struck by its basic sincerity.
And yet, this is in a country where most of the citizenry is cheering the ongoing torture of captives in the government’s trumped-up “war” on terror. A country that also routinely–and again with the enthusiastic endorsement of the public–tortures many of the millions of human beings it incarcerates every year.
How can it be that there is such widespread empathy in America for the old and the sick and such revulsion at the idea of restraining them (even for their own good), and yet when it comes to actually torturing people considered to be “terrorists” — even before these people have had a trial — or people who have been jailed, even for non-violent crimes, many of the same people are happy to see them water-boarded, hung by the wrists from the ceiling with only their toes on the ground, placed for hours in stress positions, slammed against the wall, deprived of sleep for days on end, or in the case of common prisoners, placed in solitary, sometimes for months at a stretch, and shackled like slaves when removed from their cells?
It’s the same kind of moral disconnect that has people weeping and becoming outraged over the abuse of animals — for example the case of the Arizona pound that killed a badly injured cat brought in by a homeless man for treatment when it got caught in barbed wire — but then shrugging it off when they hear that another man in Arizona, picked up on a drunk driving charge, was placed in solitary and then left there, without trial or even access to a lawyer, for a year, or when they hear that a number of the so-called “terrorists” held at Guantanamo, sometimes for years, were captured and stolen away from their families in Afghanistan when they were just boys as young as 14!`
One of those boys, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when captured, has not only been held at Guantanamo for for over a decade now, but was tortured repeatedly as a child by his US military captors, and ultimately was forced, after a sham military “tribunal,” to choose between endless captivity at Guantanamo or an admission of “guilt” and an additional sentence of 8 years with one more served at Guantanamo and seven more in his native Canada (he chose the latter). His “crime”? He allegedly tossed a grenade at US troops who were entering a Taliban compound which they had already called in an airstrike on. As the US soldiers were checking out the bodies of the victims of that airstrike, and by some accounts, finishing off the wounded, boy-soldier Khadr, badly wounded himself, is alleged to have tossed a grenade that killed one US soldier. Note that had an American soldier done exactly the same thing under those circumstances he would almost certainly have won at least a Silver Star, and maybe a Medal of Honor, but because this boy was fighting with the Taliban, he was instead charged with murder.)
Meanwhile, I can’t get a nursing home to gently restrain my father at night, either by putting up the sides on both sides of his hospital bed or by placing a lose belt over him as he’s sleeping, because that would be “torture.”
Is this a crazy goddam country or what!
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia.