By now, most Americans — having heard the word “waterboarding” at least 183 times over the past month — seem to have grown immune to the visceral horrors attending to that particular techinque that the International Red Cross terms “suffocation by drowning.” We’ve surely grown immune to human suffering. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reduced the topic of torture to a mere parlor game — an exercise in sophistry — as the left and the right mentally wrestle with questions whose answers have been known for centuries: Is waterboarding torture? Does torture ‘work’?
(Image, left): “The Water Torture” 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture.
SEE NO EVIL
Like the proverbial six blind men in the room with an elephant, we adhere to our scant knowledge on the topic, as if that were truth enough. We have yet to view the whole body. Indeed, it seems as if were are loathe to do so. Perhaps we are as afraid as our leaders of appearing “soft” on terror if we inadvertently show concern for the actual victims of torture. (After all, they are — according to our leaders — terrorists. Or, at the very least, they are very bad people.) Or perhaps we’ve just just grown soft in the head.
How else to explain this lapse in logic: Even as we now know that the Bush Administration’s global war on terror was pocked with lies, we can’t quite seem to take the leap of logic that — among the false intelligence for going to war, the false logic of preserving our freedom and democracy by dismantling our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the false imprisonments, the false justifications for torturing — are the hundreds, likely thousands of falsely accused human beings who were tortured into making false confessions or, equally damning, false accusations against others.
It’s easy enough for Americans to vilify tyrannical regimes in other countries that falsely accuse and imprison innocent people. We know the faces of their innocents. We know their names; we know their stories. Their innocents are our causes celebres. Our media and our leaders decry the injustice, engaging “in all possible ways through every possible channel to secure their release.” Yet, to our own innocents, we are blind. Even as we dance about their periphery, vigorously engaging in circular debates over timelines and pieces of evidence — drawing fine intellectual points — we avert our eyes from the names, the faces, the stories of America’s victims.
(video, above) Director/writer Paul Haggis speaks out against U.S. torture policies — past and present — in this May 21, 2009 speech in West Hollywood. [warning: graphic images]
We leave the questions unasked: What has been the human toll of America’s torture program? What are names of the innocents who were falsely imprisoned and/or tortured under the false flag of keeping us safe? What are their stories? Who loved them? Were these human beings also mothers, fathers, children, grandparents? How long were they imprisoned? How many are still being imprisoned, without charges? How many died as a result of their torture? What crimes, what false accusations, what terrorist plots did these torture victims — the guilty and innocent alike — confess under torture? By logical extension, we’d also have to ask ourselves:
Since torture produces false confessions and false accusations, how much of what we in America (both citizens and leaders alike) believe about terrorism, terrorists, and terrorist plots is also patently false?
- How much of our U.S. current policy is being guided by the so-called “intelligence” extracted during these torture sessions? (In other words, is Dick Cheney still running this country, the same way he did under Bush?)
- How much has this “intelligence” factored into the bi-polar relationship between Candidate Obama and President Obama, regarding his constitutional duties (and his refusal) to investigate torture and other war crimes, hold war criminals accountable, restore habeas corpus and other Constitutional rights, and to honor — to the letter of the law — the Geneva Conventions in our treatment of prisoners of war?
- How much of the “intelligence” in Obama’s daily national security briefings (having been concocted and confessed-to under the torment of human torture) is nothing but pure, unadulterated bullshit?
Even as both the Bush and Obama administrations have warned us it would be dangerous — a threat to national security — to grant the accused the most basic right of habeas corpus, and even as both administrations have effectively hidden these prisoners from our sight, we could easily see their faces. We could easily know their stories. They’ve been there for years, right at our fingertips. A simple google search would put us face-to-face with the stories of these torture victims, which have long been documented by the most respected human rights and civil rights organizations on the planet. We could do that. Instead, we engage in more parlor games. When did Nancy Pelosi know? When did she get the official word that our government’s torture program was no longer a theoretical possibility, but was actually — no shit, Sherlock — a de facto reality? Was it in 2002 or 2003?
We don’t seem to care what she knew — or eventually knew — nor that she and the rest of our representatives on Capitol Hill sat on their hands from 2003 onward (during which time they all surely knew, as did anyone else with access to “the google”). And we don’t care, either, whether these terrorists were nabbed by hook or crook; whether their so-called rights were violated; whether they were tortured, nor what constitutes torture. Hey, if we had to bend the Constitution to keep Americans safe, that’s the cost of freedom. And if we had to torture the bastards to get to the truth, so be it. That’s the price you pay for being a terrorist.
In the middle of this round-robin pageantry of masquerade is that most masterful master of ceremonies, Dick Cheney, peddling his wares. Snake oil. Delivering his pitch through that half-snarled orifice, his upper lip given to a hard twitch every now and then (an unconscious response, perhaps, to the sensation of a particularly vile lie being spent?), he tells us exactly what we want to hear: Buy his wares, and we needn’t give another thought to the sickness that has overtaken this country. And, if his mounting approval rating is any indication, some people are buying. After all, it worked in 2001. It worked in 2002. It worked in 2003. It worked in 2004. And so on. Americans have an insatiable appetite for denial. The same mechanism that protects addicts, sociopaths and rapist protects us all: We are not culpable for damages done. Someone else (usually the victim) is.
What it boils down to is this: Nancy and Dick, the oddest of bedfellows, aren’t really so different when it comes to torture. Although their reasons may be different, both would be gratified if the rest of us would just look the other way. To this end, Dick is busy re-kindling our vainglorious, post-9-11 fears, while Nancy, that quintessential deer in the headlights, stares blankly back. And Obama, for his own reasons, reminds us all to just keep looking forward, no matter what. *snip* The American people, for their part, comply. Wearing the blinders of our respective parties — looking only where we’re told to look — we never catch sight of those other truths, kicking and screaming on the edge of our periphery. Or is it simply that, in our blindness, we find comfort?
(return to post: 183 Times is the Charm)