Senate's endorsement of torture is just business as usual for USA. There has been and will be much hand-wringing and indignation over the Senate's cowardly endorsement Thursday of torture as an official U.S. policy. Granted, it's morally despicable, useless from an intelligence standpoint, and poses a grave new danger to both U.S. soldiers and ordinary Americans. Truly abominable. About the only thing torture is really useful for -- aside from entertaining genuinely sadistic guards and interrogators (far more are probably traumatized than entertained by the experience) –- is, as I noted in a column last week, gathering the "evidence" to support official lies.
That said, let's put this issue in context. Before this bill "legalizing" torture (it's still a war crime, whether Bush and the Republicans want to acknowledge it or not), in the last five years the policies of the Bush cabal have already resulted in the torture of tens of thousands of people, many of them completely innocent, not just at Abu Ghraib but in many other Iraq prisons and in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and in the secret gulag of CIA and other prisons scattered throughout the globe.It's also worth noting that many of the torture techniques used, along with more than a few of the guards and interrogators using them, have been imported directly from federal and state prison systems in the U.S., where, especially in high-security "control units," such techniques have been in vogue for a decade or more. Just ask Amnesty International, or Human Rights Watch.That's what's happened this summer in Iraq. Where's the outrage?
Meanwhile, the CIA is also "rendering" victims to prisons in countries like Egypt and Syria, where the U.S. can be confident they'll be tortured on our behalf. This is a major scandal in Canada, where an innocent Canadian citizen survived a nearly year-long, American-delivered descent into Syrian hell, and in Europe, where the E.U. is investigating whether both CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and overflights of rendered CIA prisoners constituted violations by member states of Europe's rather more enlightened human rights laws.
And just last week, a report by the U.N. special investigator on torture had this to say about torture in Iraq:
"Detainees' bodies show signs of beating using electric cables, wounds in different parts of their bodies including in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns."
Human rights groups welcomed the report but stated that it's not just our client, Shiite-controlled government that's torturing in Iraq; torture in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq continues to be endemic. Meanwhile, the report also had this to say, regarding Iraq's death squads and bodies brought to the Baghdad morgue:
"[They] often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes and wounds caused by power drills or nails."
Anyone surviving all this is, for their trouble, shot in the head.
The report also concluded that torture in Iraq is now more widespread than it was under Saddam Hussein. That's a pretty low bar to crawl under. Is it coincidence that both the U.S. and the U.S.-backed Shiite government are torturing in Iraq? Of course not. Consider the man most commonly linked with those death squads, Bayan Jabr, who has now been part of the last three Iraq governments, members of each of which were hand-picked or vetted by the Bush administration. Jabr became Finance Minister earlier this year, even after, while the Interior Minister in 2005-06, Jabr's ministry was discovered by U.S. troops last December to be running a secret torture prison with 169 brutalized, emaciated, mostly Sunni prisoners. Allegations of a whole network of such prisons then emerged. Meanwhile, in mid-2005, parallel to Jabr's assumption of the Interior post, Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni civilians, first in Baghdad and then throughout much of Shiite-controlled Iraq.
In the past 15 months, those death squads have killed many thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of mostly Sunnis. The squads frequently wear Iraqi police or military uniforms, often use government vehicles, and are widely believed to be originated through, if not outright run by, the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, under first Jabr and now his successor. The squads have apparently spread to other Shiite-controlled ministries, too, particularly Health; most Iraqis, even those mortally wounded in Iraq's ever-present random violence, now refuse to go to hospitals to get their wounds treated due to death squads that pull patients out of hospital beds, take them to a secluded place, and execute them. Often after torturing them.
Ken Silverstein, in the August 2006 Harper's, had a fascinating piece on Jabr, especially his early history in post-Saddam Iraq. Previously, as an exile, Jabr worked closely with the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi. In 2004, while Jabr was Housing Minister, two senior CPA officials approached then-viceroy Paul Bremer with concerns that Jabr was not only frightfully corrupt (even by the standards of post-Saddam Iraq), but also showed strong tendencies toward both authoritarianism and sectarianism. They wanted him dumped. Bremer nodded, took it under advisement, and a few days later abruptly sacked the aides for being "unable" to work constructively with Jabr.
All this suggests that Jabr -– who has survived well-documented corruption, torture, and death squad allegations to serve in three consecutive governments, and has been protected enough that senior U.S. officials critical of him were once sacked –- is the Bush administration's guy. Combine that, the rise of the death squads in mid-2005, and extensive reports earlier that year that the Bush team was secretly considering the "Salvador option": creating indigenous death squads to target and hopefully disable the Sunni insurgency. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. government is at least tolerating, if not complicit in or outright operating, Iraq's death squads.
Incidentally, the new U.S.-crafted Iraqi constitution has many flaws, but it does explicitly outlaw torture. But then, until Thursday, torture was considered illegal in the U.S., too.
However, the situation in Iraq is nothing new. It's eerily reminiscent not only of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Contras in Central America in the 1980s under Reagan, but U.S. support of thuggish allies in South America's "Dirty Wars" of the 1960s and '70s under both Johnson and Nixon. In other words, bipartisan torture. The only difference now is that when the CIA sends its instructors to our client states, they will have gained their real-life experience "legally."
And torture is one thing; death is another. The respected epidemiologist who co-authored the 2004 Lancet article, then estimating 100,000 additional Iraqi civilian deaths caused by our invasion and occupation, in an interview earlier this year put the current figure at up to 300,000. And that's before this summer, when the violence was so bad that an estimated two million Iraqis -- one in 12 of the country' population -- fled the country, often in fear of their lives. (Elites having the resources to leave had already done so.) The result has been an enormous humanitarian and refuge crisis in Jordan, Syria, and other nearby countries.
The equivalent ratio in the U.S. would be if 25 million Americans suddenly left the country. Put another way, take the Pacific Northwest, where I live, and draw one line along the Canadian border, and another from the Pacific along the Oregon-California border all the way to the Illinois-Wisconsin border at Lake Michigan. Seattle to Milwaukee. Now, completely depopulate that entire land mass.
Where's the outrage over 300,000 (or, now, more) Iraqi dead? Where's the outrage over tens of thousands tortured during the so-called War on Terror, and the scores of deaths that have resulted? Where's the outrage over rape, another widespread and underreported consequence of our wars? Where's the outrage over a decades-long American tradition, from Somoza and Brazil to "extraordinary rendition," of using other countries' thugs to provide deniability? Where's the outrage over how the two million plus prisoners in U.S. prisons and jails are treated?
The Senate's vote Thursday was despicable. But nobody, absolutely nobody, should be able to say that it was an aberration.
Monday, October 02, 2006
"Torture in context"