Thursday, May 26, 2005

With the Gloves Off

NY Times
With the Gloves Off


A photo of President Bush gingerly holding a month-old baby was on the front
page of yesterday's New York Times. Mr. Bush is in the habit of telling
us how precious he thinks life is, all life.

The story was about legislation concerning embryonic stem cell research
, and it
included a comment from Tom DeLay urging Americans to reject "the
treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more
sacred than others."

Ahh, pretty words. Now I wonder when Mr. Bush and Mr. DeLay will find
the time to address - or rather, to denounce - the depraved ways in
which the United States has dealt with so many of the thousands of
people (many of them completely innocent) who have been swept up in the
so-called war on terror.

People have been murdered, tortured, rendered to foreign countries to
be tortured at a distance, sexually violated, imprisoned without trial
or in some cases simply made to "disappear" in an all-American version
of a practice previously associated with brutal Latin American
dictatorships. All of this has been done, of course, in the name of

The government would prefer to keep these matters secret, but we're
living in a digital age of near-instantaneous communication. Evidence
of atrocities tend to emerge sooner rather than later, frequently
illustrated with color photos or videos.

A recent report from Physicians for Human Rights is the first to
comprehensively examine the use of psychological torture by Americans
against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The
employment of psychological torture, the report says, was a direct
result of decisions developed by civilian and military leaders to "take
the gloves off" during interrogations and "break" prisoners through the
use of techniques like "sensory deprivation, isolation, sleep
deprivation, forced nudity, the use of military working dogs to instill
fear, cultural and sexual humiliation, mock executions, and the threat
of violence or death toward detainees or their loved ones."

"Although the evidence is far from complete," the report says, "what is
known warrants the inference that psychological torture was central to
the interrogation process and reinforced through conditions of

In other words, this insidious and deeply inhumane practice was not the
work of a few bad apples. As we have seen from many other
investigations, the abuses flowed inexorably from policies promulgated
at the highest levels of government.

Warfare, when absolutely unavoidable, is one thing. But it's a little
difficult to understand how these kinds of profoundly dehumanizing
practices - not to mention the physical torture we've heard so much
about - could be enthusiastically embraced by a government headed by
men who think all life is sacred. Either I'm missing something, or
President Bush, Tom DeLay and their ilk are fashioning whole new zones
of hypocrisy for Americans to inhabit.

There's nothing benign about psychological torture. The personality of
the victim can disintegrate entirely. Common effects include memory
impairment, nightmares, hallucinations, acute stress disorder and
severe depression with vegetative symptoms. The damage can last for
many years.

Torturing prisoners, rather than making the U.S. safer, puts us all in
greater danger. The abuses of detainees at places like Guantánamo and
the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have come to define the United States in
the minds of many Muslims and others around the world. And the world
has caught on that large percentages of the people swept up and
incarcerated as terrorists by the U.S. were in fact innocent of
wrongdoing and had no connection to terrorism at all.

Bitterness against the U.S. has increased exponentially since the
initial disclosures about the abuse of detainees. What's the upside of
policies that demean the U.S. in the eyes of the world while at the
same time making us less rather than more secure?

The government, like an addict in denial, will not even admit that we
have a problem.

"We're in this Orwellian situation," said Leonard Rubenstein, the
executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, "where the
statements by the administration, by the president, are unequivocal:
that the United States does not participate in, or condone, torture.
And yet it has engaged in legal interpretations and interrogation
policies that undermine that absolutist stance."