Wednesday, June 01, 2005

American Credibility Flushed Down the Toilet
American Credibility Flushed Down the Toilet
by Nicholas von Hoffman

The puzzle is the size and flush capacity of the toilets in what
Amnesty International calls "the gulag of our time," or what our media
refers to as the "facility" at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As everybody
knows, a gossip-column item in Newsweek magazine reported that a Koran
had somehow been disposed of down the crapper in front of horrified
Muslim eyes, inciting riots and demonstrations on the other side of
the world.

The Right Honorable Scott McClellan, the voice of the White House,
insisted that American concentration-camp loos are not used for book
disposal. Going into his "people of faith" routine, the man told
reporters that "our United States military personnel go out of their
way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care." Since
Reverend McClellan and his confreres have, as they say, no street cred
left, it would've been more to the point if he'd skipped his carping
about the magazine and addressed the big question—namely, how do
military personnel get rid of big fat holy books via the dumper
without clogging it? If you drop a whole book in and flush, a rather
disgusting overflow will result. Do these Christian soldiers stand by
the toilets, rip out a few pages and flush, rip out some more and
flush, and then rip, flush, rip, flush, until they've gotten rid of
every last holy word?

One other possibility comes to mind: chemical toilets. They don't
flush. A Christian can drop the whole damn Koran down into the mess
and then kick back and listen to the Muslims who witnessed the act

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, says that Al Qaeda members have
been ordered to lie about their treatment in American camps. Mr.
Whitman, whom I would take to be about as believable on Iraqi topics
as Vladimir Putin discussing Russian democracy, would serve his bosses
better not to bring up the subject of prevarication. In mitigation of
the Pentagon on the question of speaking other than the truth about Al
Qaeda, etc., one cannot distinguish when they are deliberately telling
untruths, when they are themselves misinformed, when they are
ignorant, or when they are being stupid and confused.

Were it not that I am against book burning, book flushing and book
shredding, I would urge that everybody's holy books, starting with the
New Testament, be dropped down the very self-same hole. But also
arguing against such acts of destruction are men and women of
intelligence and wisdom who teach us that these books are valuable if
not used for ecclesiastic aggrandizement. In the practical world,
given the millions of Korans probably in existence, the loss of one or
two makes no difference, except for the part they play in the
religious wars we've been dragged into. Anyhow, since the
Korans-in-the-plumbing story hit the headlines, we have learned that
American Christian soldiers have been mutilating Korans in front of
Arab Muslims for years, or so Muslim prisoners and the F.B.I. say.

Koranic waste management is the least of it. Where there is religion,
there is sex of the sickly variety. The Washington Post has it that
F.B.I. "records also include numerous allegations that guards or
interrogators at Guantanamo Bay used sexually suggestive techniques
designed to humiliate Muslim men." One said he was forced to stand
naked in front of a female interrogator. Another said he was "touched
sexually" by male guards.

There are people aplenty on the outside of government backing up the
White House and the Pentagon; they disbelieve the nasty stuff. David
Brooks, as loyal an administration fugleman as you will find, asks,
"Would it be illegal for more people on the left to actually be happy
that a story slurring Americans may turn out to be unproven? Could
there be a few more liberals willing to admit that prisoners routinely
lie about their treatment? … We're in the middle of an ideological war
against people who want to destroy us …. "

Sometimes prisoners lie and sometimes their jailers do, but Dr. Brooks
and his fellow warriors for the Lord haven't had much success in
discerning which is which. Back when this endless conflict was
starting, it was Saddam—not yet pictured in his undies—who had it
right about the W.M.D. and David Brooks' people who were the tellers
of tall tales. Though exposed countless times, they've continued to
deceive through what is becoming the weary years of this winless war.
Their most recent sojourn into the land of lies concerns the
accidental death by friendly gunfire of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the
patriotic football player who enlisted in the war Mr. Brooks urges
others to fight. For recruiting purposes, the Army concocted a story
about Tillman's heroic death at the hands of the enemy and awarded him
a posthumous medal for an action that never took place.

Nonetheless, would that the tormentors of prisoners had stopped at
fudging the truth and destroying a few books—which, however large
their symbolic value, don't have nervous systems and don't feel pain.
According to ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh, "The evidence that there was
systemic and widespread abuse of detainees in U.S. custody continues
to mount and the government continues to turn a blind eye to this
evidence." (Incidentally, I am an ACLU member and may soon join
Amnesty International.)

The stories of cruelty and sadism committed by members of the Armed
Services and other organs of the American government are now so
numerous that keeping track of them has become a specialty. Here's a
whiff of two that made it into the paper in the last few days.

The first is under Tim Golden's byline in The New York Times: "Even as
the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers
continued to torment him. The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi
driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the
detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer
questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived
in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his
legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands
were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell
for much of the previous four days." Dilawar died.

The day after the Times story, The Washington Post had one by Craig
Whitlock which carried a Stockholm dateline and began: "The CIA
Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just
before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen
agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the
aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two
prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.

"Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA
operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners'
clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released
Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements."

That operation is called, in C.I.A.-speak, an "extraordinary
rendition," which, according to The Post, is "the forcible and highly
secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other
nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections."

Ideological or religious, warriors of the Brooksian stripe deny these
stories though buttressed by eyewitnesses, affidavits, photographs and
confessions. Religion deals in faith, not facts. Never happened. Case

Lefties, liberals and lib-labs—though not Democratic
politicians—insist that torture is Bush administration policy, that
the orders for the thumb screws come out of Don Rumsfeld's office. Mr.
Rumsfeld's people fall back on the rotten-apple-in-the-barrel defense.
It's a plausible argument when sadistic acts are sometime events, but
when they are brought to light week after week in bunches, the
rotten-fruit theory does not hold up.

At some point, somebody must ask: How come so many rotten apples? Who
is in charge of choosing the apples? Who picks them? Who puts the
apples in the barrel, and whose job is it to see the rotten ones don't
spoil the good ones?

Having gone to war with too few troopers, Messrs. Bush, Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz, etc., had to get soldiers some way, somehow. They got some
by straining the National Guard to the point of disintegration, and
still there weren't enough soldiers. More, the stories of troops ill
equipped, poorly trained and incompetently generaled have had their
effect on recruitment. Young people have been turning down fat
enlistment bonuses, rich promises of college tuition and medical care.
What's left but to pick the rotten apples? The last expedient open to
a manpower-hungry Pentagon has been to let down the standards, to wink
at recruiters breaking the rules to snag people into the service who
shouldn't be in uniform. Apparently some are unsmart, some are
unschooled, some are drug- or alcohol-dependent, and some may have a
taste for inflicting pain and humiliation. How many such people may
have been brought into the services is not known—or if it is, you may
be sure the Pentagon isn't going to say.

In times past, decent soldiers have been made of unpromising recruits.
You can lower the standards and still get good soldiers with the right
training and proper supervision. A man or a woman with sadistic
desires will not get to act them out if the unit is in good order and
under strong discipline. Thus, whether or not the torture, the
kidnapping and the throwing of civilians into the concentration camps
is policy or failure of command, the people at the top are still
responsible. The vaunted Pentagon command and control, like so many of
the doodads coming out of the five-star war house, is not living up to
its press releases.

The top people will not be held responsible. Mr. Brooks isn't the only
one who turns a blind eye at practices that make others gag; there are
a lot of shit kickers in America who approve of hanging Mohammedans up
by the testicles until they die. I suspect, though, there are more of
us who do not approve or would not approve if we noticed, but we are
busy speculating in real estate, watching the basketball playoffs,
bitching about the price of gasoline or planning summer vacations. We
do not pay attention to what is done in our name.

And it's quite a name we're getting, the world's No. 1 and only
superpower, the Johnny Appleseed of democracy. Quite a name.