Too little has been written about the cowardice of CIA and Pentagon torturers and even less about the stoic courage of their victims. Irrespective of what they might have done, there can be no question that those suffering illegal and criminal tortures are, in fact, more courageous than their tormentors. After all, how much courage does it take to pummel a man tied to a chair or chained to a wall? CIA interrogators don’t have even the “sporting” attitude of the schoolyard bully who attacks a weaker child. That might be called a “fair fight” as the weaker could put up a defense. But those five-man teams that torture the defenseless, by definition, have got to be the most cowardly thugs on the planet. Somehow, this perspective has eluded the “24” fiction writers at Fox television network who extol U.S. torturer Jack Bauer the way Goebbels once extolled the SS. It has also eluded President Barack Obama, a former employee of a CIA-front organization, who lavishly praised the CIA in a speech at its Langley, Va., headquarters last year.
According to one reliable published report, more than 100 prisoners have died in U.S. custody since President Bush launched his “War on Terror,” yet this figure may be a pale shadow of the ugly reality, for there are repeated tales of prisoners dragged from their cells in the dead of night and “disappeared”—men whose murders may not appear in any Pentagon or CIA box score. The actual figure could be in the many hundreds or thousands. Bear in mind, too, that U.S. officials running the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for the crimes committed by any and all of their hired local hit men as well as for the horrendous conditions in the detention camps.
Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a civilian suspect arrested in Afghanistan by U.S. or U.K. soldiers’ who is innocent of any wrongdoing, as the vast majority of them have been said to be by impartial observers. Without being allowed to hire a lawyer or to go before a judge, you are imprisoned for months or years and tortured. Wouldn’t being subjected to these criminal acts against the law of nations invest you with a sense of righteousness as well as defiance? As your martyrdom unfolds before your eyes and the frustration of your torturers increases as they try to extract information from you that you do not possess, wouldn’t each thorn unjustly impressed into your brow confer upon you a sense of nobility? Conversely, wouldn’t each cowardly slap by your torturers further demean them? Who is the nobler: the torturer shouting “god damn you!” or the victim crying out “god help me” or perhaps, even as Jesus once uttered, “father, forgive them”? How different is the CIA practice of banging prisoners’ heads into a wall from the acts of the SS men sixty years ago who killed Jewish boys by slamming their heads into walls? It is said the Muslim victims today “only” get concussions, sort of like NFL quarterbacks, but what the CIA agents, like the Gestapo before them, share in common in every case, is cowardice—the powerful thrashing the defenseless.
This cowardice is not confined merely to those who torture. It pervades the White House and Congressional leadership that makes wars against smaller countries that cannot retaliate in kind. Cowardice was also the hallmark of the Office of Legal Counsel hacks who authorized punishments the usually reticent Red Cross felt obliged to describe as “tantamount to torture” that turned the civilized world against America as surely as the evidence of the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust turned the civilized world against the Japanese and Germans during World War Two. Their cowardice has also spawned in our midst a generation of torturers who inflict ghastly punishments on human beings at no risk to themselves as the Obama regime, under the guise of “looking ahead,” will not obey its constitutional obligation to enforce America’s statutes against torture. This is not merely political cowardice. It is complicity in a nauseating scenario that degrades America before the world and shows us up for the cowards we are.
It might be recalled that the U.S. and U.K. together engaged in terror bombing during World War Two that massacred defenseless civilians; that these two allies jointly built the atomic bombs that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and that the U.S. covered Viet Nam with Agent Orange and Iraq with irradiated ammunition that go on claiming innocent civilian lives to this day. Now the U.S. has unleashed the drone pilotless warplane that is indiscriminately killing civilians as well as “suspects,” the latest example of national terrorism and cowardice. Tragically, America has become a nation of cowards, from the political weasels in Congress who vote up the $700 billion Pentagon budgets for war to the man in the White House who will not enforce the law to the gutless hirelings in the CIA and the Pentagon who perform the tortures ordered from the top. This July 4th, the American national holiday, the national anthem will resound across the nation. Its final stanza asks the question of whether the flag still flies over “the home of the brave?” How I wish I could say that it did!
SHERWOOD ROSS is an American journalist who has reported for the Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and wire services. He has also been active in the civil rights movement. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org