The Torturer’s Tale

April 22nd, 2009 - by admin

Jon Carroll / San Francisco Chronicle – 2009-04-22 09:06:02

SAN FRANCISCO (April 22, 2009) — I am prepared to accept that torture has always been part of warfare. The Mongols and Goths were just not that nice. The Saracens: some mean guys there. The soldiers would get their blood up because the other soldiers were trying to kill them, and when they finally obtained the upper hand, somehow just binding their enemies’ wrists and giving them a stern lecture just wasn’t enough.

The Japanese in the jungle; the Ugandans in the other jungle; even the United States on the Great Plains, where the soldiers were mad because of the Indian slaughters, so they slaughtered right back – but first, a little torture. Indeed, it’s even hard to say who started the slaughtering and the torture; these were lawless times in a lawless land.

Did I mention the armies of the Prophet? Yeah, not so much fun there either.

War is ugly. War is stupid. War is hell. Even when you are a courageous settler standing in front of your cabin fighting to protect your family cowering inside – ugly, stupid, hell. After all, that’s probably not your land you’re standing on. Probably it was stolen. There really aren’t any good guys here.

But: We do have to save special contempt for the cold-blooded torturers, the ones in nice suits thousands of miles away from the action, sitting in nice offices writing thoughtful memos explaining why torture is not really torture, or not torture as defined by the Geneva Convention, or not torture per se, as it were, see footnote three.

For one thing, and the people in the nice suits in nice offices never seem to have gotten this message, torture isn’t really an effective interrogation device. This is not exactly secret information. I mean, think about it – if you were having your head slammed up against a wall repeatedly, wouldn’t you say just about anything to make it stop?

“Oh yes, I remember now, there was a meeting in Yemen. Big meeting. Very secret underground tunnels; I will draw you a map. Oh, and everybody was there.” And then, because by that time I’d be more than a little angry, I might name some of my enemies. “Oh, my wife’s brother-in-law – big terrorist. Oh my, yes. And the owner of the video store underneath my apartment – planned the whole 9/11 thing. Not only that, he’s going to blow up the White House, like, today. Better get to work!”

OK, they’ll find out I’m lying pretty quick, but then perhaps I am labeled an unreliable informant and they’ll leave me alone. Of course, we know from some of the released memos that they did not leave unreliable informants alone; they tortured them anyway. American soldiers and civilians tortured half-wits and liars and, well, anybody they could, it would seem.

Why? Because they had guidelines. The Justice Department said they could. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. What data do you suppose the last 10 waterboardings yielded?

And this was not hot-blooded revenge. This was not jungle fighting or ignorant armies clashing by night or the fog of war descending on the brains of scared and tired young men. This was being done on the written orders of men in the Justice Department, torture weasels who should be banished to a small rock in the Atlantic. One of them, Torture Weasel Jay Bybee, is now a judge, Ninth Circuit. Isn’t that swell?

When President Obama announced that the soldiers who did the actual acts – the waterboarding and wall bashing and sleep deprivation and humiliating nudity in cold rooms – would not be prosecuted for what they did, I agreed with that decision. Soldiers act under orders, and they do what they’re told. I thought about Lynndie England, a susceptible and not terribly bright young woman who served 521 days in military prison for her action at Abu Ghraib prison while the higher-ups went free, sometimes even went unidentified, and I thought that perhaps Obama was doing the right thing. In any event, it was a tough call.

But now it appears that the Obama administration is not going to prosecute the torture weasels either. Stephen Bradbury and Jay Bybee and John Yoo – having devised lovely rationales for pointless brutality, doing the United States untold harm around the world and degrading both themselves and their profession – will just go on with their lives, la la la.

Maybe it is time to put the past behind us. Maybe it is time to close this sorry chapter of the Bush administration. I can see that rationale. But is it OK if I go into this closet and scream for 10 minutes?

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

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