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Indictment: US Guilty of War Crimes

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I am sickened as I write, my country, engaged in horrible crimes against human beings, tortured, reduced to helplessness, imprisoned for years, often released subsequently without charges … a compliant (and complicit) public, ranging from profound denial to blissful unconcern or the self-righteous expression of justifiability, forming the silent background for a tableau of dishonor and extreme cruelty. I refer to Guantanamo, but also CIA black sites scattered worldwide, sadistic personnel—jailers, physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists, lawyers, military and intelligence officers, members of Congress, Washington, America in general, right up to Obama—compliant, complicit, no, actively supportive, blood-soaked in mind and spirit, positively relishing the demonic practices, all in the name of freedom and democracy, the American Way of Life, God Himself/Herself.

I have criticized the New York Times often enough in these pages. That does not change, in most things a direct pipeline from, or reflecting the views of, the Administration; but this time, the article, “How U.S. Torture Left Legacy of Damaged Minds,” (Oct. 9), by Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, and James Risen, has done the paper proud, with excellent research (as much as classification-in-place has allowed) on the details of torture, medical reports, etc., as well as legwork and photographs of former prisoners, and interviews of what detainees were subjected to and their current psychological and physical problems, heightening the impact and truth value of the report. The focus is on the aftereffects, but much is brought out about the actual torture—clearly, standard operating procedure, partly to break the will of the prisoners, partly, pure viciousness on the part of the captors—of those imprisoned.

I quote and paraphrase liberally from the report, in grateful acknowledgment of the reporters’ work. (My commentary and responses are my own.) They write that “government lawyers and intelligence officials” concluded that “none of it [torture] …would cause long lasting psychological harm,” and, [f]ifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.” (Like Kafka, I will identify the victims serially by an initial.) A. “describes permanent headaches and disturbed sleep, plagued by memories of dogs inside a blackened jail”; B. “is haunted by nightmares of suffocating at the bottom of a well”; C. music from a passing car “spurs rage … reminding him of the C.i.A. prison where earsplitting music was just one assault to his senses.” So much for their alleged absence of psychological damage, years after having been released from incarceration.

The reporters speak of detainees “enduring agonizing treatment in secret C. I. A. prisons around the world or coercive practices at the military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay,” similar to what American P.O.W.’s faced “who were brutalized decades earlier by some of the world’s cruelest regimes.” Some of those [it seems a majority from the evidence presented] of those now discussed “included victims of mistaken identity or flimsy evidence that the United States later disavowed,” or were “foot soldiers … who were later deemed to pose little threat.” “[T]he human toll,” the reporters note, “has gone largely uncalculated.”

Of those interviewed, more than half going through the C.I.A. “’enhanced interrogation’ program” had a regimen which included “depriving them of sleep, dousing them with ice water, slamming them into walls and locking them in coffin-like boxes,” not surprisingly since showing “psychiatric problems,” e.g., PTSD, “paranoia, depression or psychosis.” In others, “the military inflicted sensory deprivation, isolation, menacing with dogs,” etc. The government never studied the long-term effects of the torture. Even during medical treatment at Guantanamo, physicians “did not ask their patients what had happened during their questioning”—profound denial all up and down the line. And when “released from American custody, some found neither help nor relief.” They had been “snatched, interrogated and imprisoned, then sent home without explanation.”

The widow of D., who had died in May, states, “He was humiliated, and that feeling never went away.” Then there was E., a 15-year-old child soldier, captured in Afghanistan, a Canadian, who, after years of imprisonment, related to his lawyer that “the American soldiers had kept him from sleeping, spit in his face and threatened him with rape[.]” In anxiety attacks he once urinated during interrogation “and soldiers had dragged him through the mess.” He said: “This is the room where they used me as a human mop.” One conscientious examining physician noted that E. had PTSD, “a conclusion the military contested.” The doctor later did research “on the effects of abusive practices,” and “found decades of papers on the issue” going back to World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, in which “[f]ormer soldiers who suffered torture or mistreatment were more likely than others to develop long-term problems.” Government’s response to such an obvious conclusion? Have a training program, SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] “to resist enemy interrogators”!

Enter the psychologists, essentially to toughen up service members so they can withstand torture, professionals—in practices which the American Psychological Association has not condemned—who “gave electric shocks to dogs” as part of the experiments in developing a resistance-strategy. (The dogs were strays, then euthanized, indicative of the cynicism of all those joining in the detainee enterprise.) F. provided “the grisly details” of “water dousing,” in which he was “forced onto a plastic tarp while naked, his hands shackled above his head. Sometimes he was hooded. One C.I.A. official poured buckets of ice water on him as others lifted the tarp’s covers, sending water splashing over him and causing a choking or drowning sensation. He said he endured the treatment multiple times.”

Exceptionalism? America the Beautiful? Other techniques included “mock executions, threats to harm prisoners’ children or rape their family members, and ‘rectal feeding,’ which involved inserting liquid food supplements or puree into the rectum.” For those moving through C.I.A. jails, “interrogations were designed to disrupt the senses and increase helplessness….. Forced nudity, sensory deprivation and endless light or darkness were considered routine.” The reporters further observed, “Many of those men [from C.I.A. jails] were later released without charges, unsure of why they were held.” Senate investigators concluded, “About one in four prisoners should never have been captured, or turned out to have been misidentified by the C.I.A.” I suspect the proportion was greater.

Finally, let me look at F., “a Moroccan living in Afghanistan in 2001, [who] was held for years as a suspected member of a group linked to Al Qaeda. He said he was beaten repeatedly at a United States military jail in Kandahar and forced to watch soldiers do the same to his younger brother.” The sect he belonged to was actually “oppressed by Al Qaeda and others.” He was kept in isolation at Guantanamo, where, protesting his innocence, he was threatened, abused, shown “execution photos,” and told he would be sent to Morocco for further torture. The denouement: “After he was released last year, the United States gave him a letter saying it no longer stood by information that he was a member of a Qaeda-linked group in Morocco. Despite diplomatic assurances that he would face no charges, Morocco jailed him for several months late last year and he continues to fight allegations that he thought were behind him.” Now, he is under psychiatric care and has serious, painful symptoms.

I give F. the last word: “’They [his doctors] tell me everything is normal. Your brain is playing games. It is something mental. You’re still living in Gitmo. It’s fear.” There is more to be said, more case studies, an indictment, whether NYT’s intent (but the evidence is there) written in the blood, nervous systems, minds of the victims. The US plays hard ball. There appears to be no resting, either political party, the public at large, and when not directly implicated America has cultivated proxies worldwide to do its mission. What that mission is, I leave the reader to determine.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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