Favorite

Torturers at the top 

King Henry VIII of England, founder of the Church of England and a particularly virile ruler, did not think it at all inhumane to have a counterfeiter boiled alive or to cut off the extremities, including the heads, of sundry enemies in prison without a fair trial. Some of Henry’s enemies, after all, were of a new and particularly thoughtless kind — religious zealots.

What the king lacked in the 16th century but what George W. Bush has had were gifted speechwriters to rationalize such punishment to his subjects and a secretary of state to explain sweetly to the royal courts of Europe how it never happened.

When he was pressed during his Latin American tour about all the stories of soldiers and government agents torturing detainees in secret prisons, already confirmed by governments from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, President Bush declared, “We do not torture.” Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continue to insist that the random instances where someone was abused were the work of a few rogue privates and corporals (130 of them so far) defying their commanders.

It is hard for even the most trusting citizens to believe the president and his men anymore and, of course, almost no one in any foreign land does. The government has surrendered more than 70,000 pages of CIA, FBI, Defense and State department documents that detail inhumane treatment in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Guantanamo Naval Base — prisoners shackled to the floor for hours on end, kept naked and sexually tormented, their hands bathed in alcohol and set afire, waterboarded, threatened with death and, in a number of cases, killed.

Rear Adm. John Hutson (Ret.), former judge advocate general of the Navy, says the blame should not stop with the grunts who were punished.

“In dealing with detainees, the attitude at the top was that they are all just terrorists, beneath contempt and outside the law so they could be treated inhumanely. . . ,” Hutson said. “International obligations didn’t matter, nor did morality or humanity. That attitude dropped like a rock down the chain of command.”

The documents, remember, are those that the government collected, preserved and is now reluctant but willing to give up under court order. We will never know how much of the truth they tell.

The American Civil Liberties Union sought the documents under the Freedom of Information Act even before the Abu Ghraib photographs were unearthed. A federal judge has ordered the government to release photos and videos of abuse at Abu Ghraib in response to an ACLU lawsuit but the administration is fighting the release and it obtained a stay of the order and now an extension. One day it will all come to light though probably after the Bush administration has receded into history. Then we shall see ourselves as others see us now and be more aggrieved because from General Washington forward we have always held ourselves to a higher standard.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told the European capitals that the U.S. does not whisk people away, fly them across the borders of Europe to clandestine prisons and torture them in a regimen called “extraordinary rendition.”

Never happened, Rice said. Well, that’s not exactly what she said but it’s the impression she wanted to leave. Verb tense, legalisms and careful semantic distinctions left plenty of leeway if subsequent revelations prove her to be unequivocally lying.

The big legalism, of course, is what constitutes torture. In Bush’s lexicon, as in King Henry’s, nothing does.

But detailed reports in the Washington Post and in the European press had already put the lie to her account. There was the celebrated case of Khaled Masri in which Rice herself had a role. Masri, a 41-year-old German citizen of Lebanese descent and father of five, had a spat with his wife and got on a bus to Macedonia to cool off. On Dec. 31, 2003, the CIA took him off the bus for questioning. The local CIA chief had a hunch that he was an Al Qaeda agent. They questioned him for 23 days in a dark hotel room.

He was taken handcuffed and blindfolded to an airfield where he was severely beaten with a stick. His clothes were cut off and he was given an enema, the standard drill for extraordinary rendition. In a diaper and jump suit, he was blindfolded, handcuffed, earmuffed and shackled spread-eagle to the floor. Then he was flown to Afghanistan for four months in a cold concrete cell. His interrogator, apparently an American, told him that he was in a country where there was no law. “If you die, we will bury you and no one will know.” He was photographed naked and interrogated by masked men, tied to a chair and a feeding tube stuck through his nose to his stomach.

The German government confirmed the central details of his story — the exact dates and places and methods of his movements, including the CIA-chartered plane.

By March, the CIA knew they had the wrong man and debated what to do with him. Stopping the torture apparently was not an option. Two months later, they flew him to Albania and dropped him off in the woods.

In Washington, they consulted the White House and the State Department. On Bush’s behalf, Rice said they had to notify the German government of the mistake because Masri might talk, and CIA Director George Tenet finally agreed. But they would never confirm, apologize or comment on the story if it broke.

Honorable as she is, Rice stuck to the deal last week.


Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Tax tales

    The easiest task in the world may be to persuade people that they are paying higher taxes than folks in other communities, states and countries, but there is never a shortage of people taking on the task.
    • Oct 5, 2017
  • Stifling dissent

    Whenever Donald Trump in his serial bouts with failure decides he must re-energize his base of white nationalists by doing things like demonizing black athletes who protest discrimination, the mainstream press falls for it and gives him maximum space and time. We're addicted.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Tax tales

    The easiest task in the world may be to persuade people that they are paying higher taxes than folks in other communities, states and countries, but there is never a shortage of people taking on the task.
    • Oct 5, 2017
  • Stifling dissent

    Whenever Donald Trump in his serial bouts with failure decides he must re-energize his base of white nationalists by doing things like demonizing black athletes who protest discrimination, the mainstream press falls for it and gives him maximum space and time. We're addicted.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

October

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Cotton to CIA?

    Political junkies without a real election to overanalyze fill the void with "what if?" scenarios. With the State Fair underway, consider this column a helping of cotton candy for such readers.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The casting couch

    • sigh............ I would argue that the idea of 'freedom from fear' is part of the…

    • on October 19, 2017
  • Re: Caution: government at work

    • As to the AR Chamber of Commerce-DO NOT FORGET it supports passage of SJR8, which…

    • on October 19, 2017
  • Re: The casting couch

    • Freedom from fear is a human right.

    • on October 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation