It has long been an accepted fact of life that the U.S. not only condones but also practices the torture of political prisoners. While President George Bush, Cabinet members and members of Congress decry the human rights violations of other nations, they are not nearly so critical of those violations when perpetrated under their orders.
When pictures of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by smiling U.S. soldiers at Abu Gharib first became public in 2004, the world was outraged. Mr. Bush proclaimed that such situations were an aberration, the willful violation of U.S. policy by a few rogue soldiers. Some of those soldiers were arrested, tried and convicted while their ‘superiors’ shook their heads and went on their merry way. While the controversy surrounding the apparently fairly common use of waterboarding, a technique of torture dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition and outlawed by U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions, kept rearing its ugly head, Mr. Bush steadfastly stated “This government does not torture people.”
Yet the world learned that ‘this government’ does indeed utilize ‘harsh interrogation techniques,’ techniques that the civilized world defines as torture. And now Mr. Bush’s empty words are exposed for the lies that they are: the Justice Department (one of the U.S.’s many oxymora) itself has disclosed this fact. A forthcoming Justice Department report states that hundreds of agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported to that department ‘interrogation techniques’ that they felt were in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. The report further states that, when the FBI agents reported these horrendous violations of basic human rights, they were told not to participate in them, apparently because they violated FBI regulations, but nothing was done to stop them. Those FBI witnesses also stated that torture is ineffective in procuring any valuable information, a direct contradiction of Mr. Bush’s repeated statements about the benefits of ‘harsh interrogation techniques.’
The cover on the U.S. as the world’s beacon of morality has long since been blown, yet Mr. Bush and his cohorts continue to act as if it were a reality, and many Americans, like lemmings, follow his lead. The facts that are such an anathema to Mr. Bush seem to receive the same reaction from many U.S. citizens. Yes, they might say, the U.S. invades sovereign nations; indiscriminately slaughters the men, women and children of those nations; tortures their captured prisoners; ignores the needs of its own soldiers and their loved ones, often causing their families at home to live in poverty, and discarding wounded soldiers to a more or less indifferent veterans’ health care system; bankrupts the nation as it destroys another one, but it is still the greatest country in the world. The story of the emperor’s new clothes quickly comes to mind. When, one wonders, will the citizens of the U.S. hear the child proclaim that the emperor is naked or, in this case, that the U.S. government is totally lacking in moral values?
So once again the world is faced with the atrocities of the U.S. Once again Congress will be called upon by the few voices not yet silenced by corporate American buyouts to investigate the lies of the Bush Administration, and the perpetration of human rights violations that are universally condemned by Congress whenever the torturers are either not Americans or not under American orders. And once again the world can expect a few press conferences where it will be subjected to tired old men jawing indignantly and meaninglessly about this latest abuse of presidential powers. They will proclaim that such behaviors are beneath the ‘greatest nation in the world,’ and vow that such human rights violations will never again be committed by the U.S. This farce will continue for a few days, perhaps as long as the pseudo-indignation over the horrific conditions injured soldiers face at the Walter Reed Medical Center. That story broke in early 2007 and members of Congress got weeks of good public relations mileage from it. Little changed for the victims, but a few good press conferences and U.S. citizens were soon lulled back into their stupor of nationalist superiority.
And what, one wonders, will the presidential candidates have to say about these new revelations of torture? Arizona Senator John McCain, soon to be officially anointed as the Republican candidate, has expressed his hatred for the Vietnamese people due to his war experiences in that catastrophic chapter of U.S. imperialism. Perhaps he will be sympathetic to the hatred America’s leaders apparently feel toward the Iraqi people who have the gall to show reluctance to turn their natural resources over to the U.S., and the Afghanistan people who also resist U.S. imperial designs. So what if such people are tortured?
And what will Senators Barrack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the still- contending Democratic candidates, say about this situation? As Democrats they have the traditional dread of appearing to be soft on whatever the threat du jour to the U.S. happens to be. A generation ago it was the ‘Red Menace,’ a Communist hiding in every closet and under every bed, just waiting to take over the U.S. and enslave its hapless citizens. Anyone who had ever watched a special television program about Russia, it seemed, was suspect.
Today, with the ‘Red Menace’ passé (whether it was defeated, deflated or basically, like weapons of mass destruction, never existed, is not often discussed), a new threat for Democrats to flex their jingoistic muscles on has come into play. ‘The threat of terrorism,’ whatever on earth that means, must be defeated. Mr. Bush tells us that the war in Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorism; those who wish to extricate the U.S. from this national disaster are weak, spineless, anti-U.S., etc., etc. So as Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton craft reactions to the Justice Department’s revelations about common, systematic and ubiquitous torture, they must walk a fine line between alienating thinking people who are appalled by the crimes the U.S. commits, and still appearing to be ‘strong on terrorism.’ If they could convert their verbal gyrations in doing so into physical ones they could be champions on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
But the outcome is far too predictable: some huffing and puffing about human rights violations, coupled with bellicose statements about defeating the terrorists, and then an eerie silence as the nation turns its eyes back to the latest Hollywood scandal or some equally trivial nonsense. Members of Congress will breathe a sigh of relief that, once again, they didn’t really have to do anything in order to keep their easy, high-paying jobs. And more innocent people will be victims of horrific torture committed in the name of the U.S.’s twisted version of freedom.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.