Sunday, September 25, 2005

Torture and the whited wall

There seems to be a meme going around, which is: go back to the 23rd post on your blog and find the 5th sentence, and post it here.

Well. That's easy. The 5th sentence of my 23rd post was "We're not like that."

To explain these words, I have to take you back to the fourth sentence, which was about cultural differences between us and others. "Ifn you go someplace else (nuther culture, we say, approvingly, widening ourselves) and eventually it dawns on you that these other people (Paraguayans,in my case of nuther culture) don't personally give a shit whether I think this way or live that way, but watch out they say, helpfully, don't let the government think you're a commie or they'll grab you and push you out of an airplane." End of sentence the fourth.

I was talking about how we, the Americans, are a little different from a lot of other people, not in that we are cruel, because other peoples are cruel as well, but in that we have a streak of fanaticism in our cruelty that was perhaps lacking in cases like the militares of the Stroessner regime in Paraguay, who would take dissidents up in a DC-3 with the cargo door open and push them out over the Chaco, but not with any personal hatred, or so I am led to believe by some accounts I have read. You may take any part of the foregoing with a grain of salt, if you wish. Or not.

We see in the instance of the most recent revelations of American cruelties in Iraq that our crimes against humanity are different from the indifferent enforcers working for former Paraguayan President Stroessner, and spring from equal parts of fear and fanaticism.

The 82nd Airborne is, or considers itself to be, an elite Army unit. Three soldiers of the 82nd have recently gone public with elaborate and, in my view, convincing testimony of systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners. Their complete statements were published by Human Rights Watch, and picked up by Time and the New York Times. I have just read all 3 accounts.

The reason their stories are getting noticed may be that they are members of a highly trained regular army unit, and their chain of command was clearly well aware of what was going on. The "bad apple" AKA the "badly trained rogue reservist" excuse goes by the board here.

Compared with known instances in which our soldiers have tortured or beaten prisoners to death in Iraq and Afghanistan, their revelations are relatively mild stuff.

A little torture terminology here: A prisoner was called a PUC, meaning Person Under Control. To beat a prisoner was to "fuck a PUC." To "smoke a PUC" was to exhaust a prisoner through physical labor or forcing him into painful physical positions to the point where he passed out.

And the third-grade Manicheanism peddled by our highest public officials, whereby enemy partisans are called "the bad guys" was almost standard issue in the mouths of these soldiers. They seemed to share with a lot of Americans a belief that our enemies are evil. And, quite understandably, more so than for our civilian Republican population, they were consumed with fear.

So fear and fanaticism were two of the ingredients of the torture they reported. But there was a third. They were told by their superiors that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these prisoners. That's why PUC replaced POW. A vague lip service to "humane" treatment became the only standard, and that standard became an explicit joke. Humane treatment meant that anything goes if you don't kill them.

The company cook could come in and work out the stress of his day by beating a prisoner, in an instance recounted, by breaking the prisoner's leg with a metal baseball bat.

Where did the explicitly vague "well, we can't really tell you, exactly, what the rules are" rules come down from? Well, from the office of the White House consigliere, now the Attorney General, and from the office of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

Now, in the minds of our people, so strongly predisposed towards good vs evil fanaticism, and who find themselves in fearful circumstances, how will these guidelines be construed? Well, we see in the soldiers' testimony exactly how.

Thud. "Hey, take it easy man. You can fuck him, or you can smoke him, but be sure you don't kill him."

I am guessing that the 23:5 meme refers back to Acts 23:5, where Paul says--sardonically I have always assumed--after having been reproached for calling the High Priest a whited wall, "I realized not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people."

There is an interesting recursive complexity to Paul's words viewed in the context of the present meme, given the popularity of Paul's own Manichean fanaticism with the followers of the ruler of our people, which makes my head hurt when I think about it.

Think Progress reports that Bill Frist is involved in the coverup of the fuckapuc torture scandal. He, along with Sen. McCain, was one of the two senators contacted by one of the soldiers who reported it, an Army captain. McCain's response was to file a resolution to make the military rules of conduct towards prisoners clear. Born-again Christian Frist's response was to torpedo McCain's bill.
On July 27, the same month the Captain came forward, Sen. Frist single-handedly derailed a bipartisan effort — led by Sen. McCain — to clarify rules for the treatment of enemy prisoners at U.S. prison camps. In what news reports at the time described as an “unusual move,” Frist “simply pulled the bill from consideration” before it could be debated.

update II:
According to Scott Horton, the Army investigated itself about torture allegations. A Major General Fay was in charge. He is a Republican Insurance executive and reserve officer, who was called up for the purposes of the investigation/whitewash. Fay's investigative technique was this:
Fay repeatedly warned soldiers that if they were involved in incidents, they would be put up on charges. And if they had seen things and not reported them, they would be up on charges. Then he asked if the soldiers had anything to report.

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