Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Against Torture—Still a Real Issue

Originally posted on August 28, 2008

In the August 2008 Esquire, they have a section called “What it feels like…” and they run interesting different kinds of experiences—crashing a motorcycle, having an airplane fall on your home, etc. This time, on page 76, a truly horrifying report: What it feels like to be a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, where the young man—a prisoner—says, “they used to beat everybody.” Well, I hesitated to believe it for a moment, but there was a parallel report: What it feels like to be a prison guard at Guantanamo Bay, and the person writing it reports: “…if they get crazy, you spray them with this terrible oil-based chemical. Then you send these five guys in to beat the shit out of them.”        Whoa!
I had heard about this. This is years after Abu Gharib. I find myself wondering who the officers are and what kinds of instructions they give. Who are the five guys and what do they say to each other? How do they hype themselves up? What kinds of PTSD will they have? The weight of guilt for this. What kinds of talk sustain this policy?
I suspect that most involved at the level of the prison are compartmentalizing, pretending not to need to think about whether any of those interred actually deserve to be put there! This is the kind of compartmentalization that assumes the justice of authority. (If the judge sent them to jail, then the judge must know.)
But remember, some of the guys there were sent there because the policy was to offer a bounty, invited local leaders and warlords incentives to turn in innocent people so they could confiscate their property or women. Who was going to question when there were quotas to be met? (This is true terrorism for the inhabitants of that region!) So now the people in prison—most still not charged, because, of course, they lack actual evidence—are being beaten, viciously. This is torture! Where is the indignation? Who are the officers, and how dare the superiors of the officers deny knowledge when this issue has been raised repeatedly for years? It is clear that there are policies from Cheney and his minions who justify a policy of intimidating all the prisoners—many of them innocent—justifying it that there might be a small possibility of yielding some kind of information that would lead to meaningful anti-terrorism actions. I know of no examples, and even if one or two were claimed, even that would not justify this wholesale torture of many innocent people.
That this lowers our moral authority in the eyes of the world is undeniable, though it is in fact being widely denied in this country. (I do not underestimate the power of denial, especially when it is sustained by mass psychology. After all, over 50% of people in the USA say they believe in the reality of Hell! What’s that about! Is anyone out there noticing that the concept of Hell and believing in it—and scaring children with it—is a wicked form of child abuse?)
Alas, this journal article brought home to me further evidence that I’ve been reading about in snips and articles in many sources. (I remember reading a soldier’s testimony in an Atlantic Magazine a few years ago in which the soldier talked about gratuitious violence—beating—  “suspects.” Note that these were often not actual terrorists, but people who someone said was a suspect—not a conviction—but suspected. What was the threshold of suspicion? It can be very low in a setting where superiors are pressing for “results.” It’s the kind of mentality that in Vietnam dealt in “body counts”—with a subtle implication that every “enemy” killed was there because he (or she) was an enemy. To be suspected was to be guilty. In a fear-filled situation, such behavior is understandable (thought that doesn’t make it right).
Does anyone else feel the fear and indignation at knowing that large groups of people (our military, our “good guys”) who are supposed to live by codes of honor are being corrupted by higher officers who are brainwashing them to ignore their own dishonorable behavior? And the code of silence is really a code of secrecy that protects the careers of these officers.
What if I dared to suggest that officers (and I’m referring to the generals) who have covered up these scandals should not only be dishonorably discharged—if not tried for war crimes—but certainly their over-generous pensions and privileges should be revoked?  And the same for the political officers—the secretaries of defense and Vice President and others similarly culpable perpetrators and justifiers?  Just asking.

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