In late June, 2005, the Washington Post came eerily close to being one of many apologists for the brutal treatment of those being held in Guantanamo Bay. They wrote, in response to the remarks made by Amnesty International and Senator Dick Durbin, which compared the actions of American torturers to those in infamous gulags:
“Its modern equivalent is not Guantanamo Bay, but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside; or the labor camps of North Korea, which were set up on Stalinist lines; or China’s laogai, the true size of which isn’t even known; or, until recently, the prisons of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” [Presumably, the Post’s “its” refers to Soviet gulags.]
Even worse than the Post’s comparisons above is the support parrotted by people who think that these prisoners held without charge, chained to the floor in their own urine and feces, is defensible. Throughout the disgusting revelations of what a few cruel and twisted sadists at the prison camp established on Cuban territory did to the prisoners in their charge, there’s too often a “good-ole-boy” attitude, a wave-a-flag “patriotism” that shrugs off these allegations. I would have to respond to the Post and those readers in agreement with its comparisons:
I have not read details about prisons in Cuba or the labor camps of North Korea. Or China, with whom we don’t dare interfere, for fear of economic blowback. If the situations are even partially as revolting as those at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I’m appropriately horrified, as I am by the U.S. treatment of people she holds without charge, defying International Law. I would wonder if those victims of torture in Cuba and North Korea and China have been charged and condemned, but I can’t speak on that.
My interest is in how this once-proud nation is so brutally treating these people, many of whom appear to be innocent of anything. Many others’ crimes were trying to defend their sovereign country against an internationally illegal invasion by a country that took away its defenses before attacking. But even for those who might be charged and condemned, should that ever happen, my interest in the U.S. treatment of these humans is for two reasons:
1. It is my country’s policies under investigation and condemnation; as a citizen here I am responsible for what my country does. Mitigated somewhat by speaking out, it remains MY responsibility, just as it is that of all of us not brainwashed by Fox News.
2. The U.S. has always claimed the moral high ground and been a “shining star” to the many in the world who don’t know of its history. (We’ll skip over a few embarrassments of the past couple of hundred years as well as treatment of the native populations.) If it holds the power to set standards, then its inhumane treatment of people, whether they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether they were trying to oust the invaders, or whether they have true terrorist intentions, is wrong by almost any moral standards.
Pragmatically, we have opened the doors for abominable treatment of our own soldiers (and civilians) when jailed by foreign countries. I cringe to imagine a godfearing nationalist in the Bush camp finding out that an American soldier held in an “enemy” camp has been beaten to death. We saw a glimpse of that from Somalia.
It’s not acceptable to attach electrodes to a man’s penis for one minute because someone else (if indeed anyone else has done so) did it for two minutes. We cannot defend our own tortures just because they were less (if they were) intense than some created by Hitler and Stalin. Further, we cannot hide under the “innocence” of shipping off of an “enemy” (uncharged, untried) snatched from the streets in another country, perhaps an ally, as is Italy, to Egypt, or another country where the victim can be tortured without U.S. accountability.
More and more of us are sickened, more and more each day. No investigative, honest person can dispute our transgressions any longer. We have broken international law. Our people and congress have been lied to regarding the justification for the invasion of Iraq. We have tossed the Geneva Accords out the window, tortured those we capture without charge or trial. Our C.I.A. has snatched a suspect from the streets of another sovereign country (Italy) without that country’s knowledge and whisked him off to be dealt with in a country with a record of torture.
No matter what comes out, we are surrounded by a smug arrogance, a self-righteous “defense” that says, “My country can do no wrong.” In the air is a firm and determined premise: If “My” country does it, it automatically becomes right and justifiable. Too often, those of us who demand we act in accord with our constitution, international law, common decency, and the values laid down by our founding fathers are accused of “treason.”
Our nation is being gobbled up by dark and embarrassing chapters propped up by a blind nationalism gone awry. What happened at Abu Graib and Guantanamo may reflect what is happening at others. Those events have cost us the respect of most of the world.
A poll taken in November, 2004 ( http://www.betavote.com/) showed 88 percent of the people polled throughout the world would have chosen Kerry over Bush. The number polled was almost half a million, and even among our allies, the preference for Kerry were. Six nations of the world voted for Bush; 234 voted for Kerry. And 35 of those 234 (including Blair’s UK, our “staunch ally,” voted with 90 (NINETY) percent or more preferring Bush. Though the poll did not claim to be scientific, most of the numbers hold up even if you give-or-take 20 points. The only six nations who would have voted for Bush over Kerry were Niger, the Congo, Azerbaizan, the Faroe Islands, Kuwait, and Libya. (More details on this unofficial survey are in my article, “If the Entire World Could Vote”) at http://www.liberalslant.com/lwt110104.htm.
Of course, that was before it got bad. Before it was shown that the U.S. had plans for the invasion of Iraq LONG before the White House claimed it did, before it was concluded that there were no WMD. Before we found out that the administration had played with the facts to get what it wanted. And it was before U.S. prison tactics at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed.
When the Washington Post implies that we’re not so bad because they believe prisoner treatment is worse in Cuba, China and North Korea, they need to remember that most of the world now looks more unfavorably at the U.S. than at these three countries.
What the Post needs to admit is that the U.S. is losing its bid to capture and colonize (and convert to a different religion) the entire Mideast, losing the war with the Iraqi Resistance (No, Mr. Rumsfeld, the insurgence are not in their death throes), losing the fight against terrorism itself by creating more terrorists than it kills, losing its good name, and losing the battle against poverty at home because more money that we have is being transferred to those who profit from war.
But perhaps the biggest loss the Post needs to state is that we are, in all probability, losing our collective consciences and, in so doing, our national soul.
LEIGH SAAVEDRA is a lifelong human rights activist, former teacher and arts columnist, a bit of a traveler, and the author of two books, “So Narrow the Bridge and Deep the Water,” (a book of short fiction, winner of the Governor’s Award for Fiction in the state of Washington) and “The Girl with Yellow Flowers in Her Hair,” a collection of essays regarding today’s sad happenings. She welcomes comments, even the hostile ones, at firstname.lastname@example.org