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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 7th, 2008 - 00:36:09

Like pornography, torture doesn't require a definition; you know it when you see it or feel it
By William Blum
Online Journal Guest Writer

Mar 7, 2008, 00:32

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With all the media coverage of "waterboarding" and all the congressional questioning of government officials about their views on the subject, I imagine that by now many people think that waterboarding must be the worst kind of torture that the United States has engaged in, and that if waterboarding is in fact not torture then the idiot king is correct when he says: "We don't torture." This is the way myths are born, so let's try and squash this particular one while it's still young.

Here in capsule form is a sample of some of the acts carried out in recent years by American military forces, their contract employees, and the CIA against detainees in one or another edifice of the sprawling global prison complex maintained by the United States in occupied Iraq, occupied Afghanistan, occupied Cuba, and various other secret prisons occupied by the CIA around the world. It may be torture to read but the point needs to be made. Lest we forget.

Standing or kneeling or forced into contorted, painful positions for many hours . . . in leg shackles and handcuffs with eyes, ears and mouth covered, exposed to extremes of heat or cold . . . stripped naked, led around with a dog leash . . . deprived of sleep, kicked to keep them awake for days on end, subjecting them to a 24-hour bombardment of bright lights or blaring noise . . . guards staging races of detainees in short leg shackles, violently punishing them if they fall . . . withholding painkillers and other medications from the injured . . . sensory deprivation, with all human contact cut off . . . made to lie naked on a sheet of ice . . . fake blood smeared on Muslim men when they are about to pray, telling them that it's menstrual blood.

The Iraqi general "was put headfirst into a sleeping bag, wrapped with electrical cord and knocked down before the soldiers sat and stood on him. The cause of death was determined to be suffocation."

Chained to the ceiling, shackled so tightly that the blood flow stops . . . shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves; a detainee found with a pile of hair next to him; he had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night . . . wrapping a prisoner in an Israeli flag . . . use of unmuzzled, growling dogs to frighten, in at least one instance actually biting and severely injuring a detainee . . . burn marks on their backs . . . detainee left at an Iraqi hospital, comatose, with massive head trauma, burns on the bottoms of his feet caused by electrocution, bruises on his arms . . . more than a hundred detainees have died during interrogations . . .

The death of two captives in Afghanistan: one from "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease"; an autopsy showed that his legs were so damaged that amputation would have been necessary; the other captive suffered from a blood clot in the lung that was exacerbated by a "blunt force injury" . . .

Kicks to the groin and legs, shoving or slamming detainees into walls and tables, forcing water in their mouths until they could not breathe . . . He had his hands handcuffed behind him and was suspended by his wrists -- "His arms were so badly stretched I was surprised they didn't pop out of their sockets." . . . forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped . . . seven naked Iraqis piled on top of each other in a pyramid . . . detainee punched in the chest so hard he almost went into cardiac arrest . . . forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.

The report by General Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, including breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees, threatening male detainees with rape, sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, raping female prisoners . . .

Eighteen days naked and alone in a cell, often with his hands and feet bound together, frequently beaten . . ."He locked his arm under mine and holding the back of my head he beat my head against the doors of the cells" . . . his hands and feet were pushed through the metal bars of the cell door and then tied together.

Six weeks after his release, he says he has lost the will to live. He is too ashamed to be seen by his friends and family and has not seen or spoken to his fianc�e. The wedding is off. "I was a man before, but my manhood was taken away. Since this happened to me, I consider myself dead. My life feels over."

Iraqi prisoners were forced to crawl through broken glass and wear women's sanitary products . . . two drunken interrogators took a female Iraqi prisoner from her cell in the middle of the night and stripped her naked to the waist . . . an Iraqi woman in her 70s was harnessed and ridden like a donkey . . . detainees were pressed to denounce Islam, or force-fed pork and liquor . . .

Jamadi died an hour after his arrival at Abu Ghraib in early November 2003; he had been beaten while in CIA custody and then hung by his wrists, with his arms crossed across his back. US Army guards at the prison then packed his body in ice and posed with the corpse in mocking photographs.

"They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees . . . and we had to bark like a dog, and if we didn't do that, they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy." . . ."Do you believe in anything?" the soldier asked. "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'"

Taken out and tied to a post, rubber bullets were fired at them; made to kneel in the sun until they collapsed . . ."They tied my hands to my feet behind my back. My left hand to my right foot and my right hand to my left foot. I was lying face down and they were beating me like this" . . . inmates kept in wire cages with concrete floors and no protection from the elements.

"They actually said: 'You have no rights here'. After a while, we stopped asking for human rights -- we wanted animal rights" . . . crosses shaved into their scalp or body hair . . . dislocated his arms, beat his leg with a bat, crushed his nose, and put an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger . . . Six Kuwaiti prisoners said they were severely beaten, given electric shocks and sodomized by US forces in Afghanistan . . .

The Afghan detainee had been captured in Pakistan along with a group of other Afghans. His connection to al Qaeda or the value of his intelligence was never established before he died. "He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda," one US government official said. . . . numerous suicide attempts . . .

And here's George W. in 2004: "The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. The world is better off because he sits in a prison cell. Because we acted, torture rooms are closed, rape rooms no longer exist." [1]

Brian Whitman, spokesman for the US Department of Defense, 2005: "The United States treats all detainees in their custody with dignity and respect." [2]

It should be noted that the CIA has been treating (real and alleged) opponents of American imperialism with similar dignity and respect ever since the agency's founding. [3] Police and prisons within the United States have been torturing for even longer. [4]

Now for the good news: The Bush administration, trying to shore up support for its military-trial procedures, has cabled US embassies with instructions that evidence obtained through torture will not be allowed. But evidence obtained through treatment considered "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" is to be allowed. [5]

George Bernard Shaw used three concepts to describe the positions of individuals in Nazi Germany: intelligence, decency, and Naziism. He argued that if a person was intelligent, and a Nazi, he was not decent. If he was decent and a Nazi, he was not intelligent. And if he was decent and intelligent, he was not a Nazi.

I suggest the reader make the obvious substitution: "Bush supporter" in place of "Nazi".


[1] White House press release, May 3, 2004

[2] Associated Press, February 10, 2005

[3] See the manuals put out by the CIA from the 1950s to the 80s on what they called "interrogation".

[4] See William Blum, Rogue State, chapters 4, 5 and 27 for examples and sources for the above

[5] Washington Post, February 13, 2008, p.3

William Blum is the author of "Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2," "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower," "West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir" and "Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire."

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