Progressive Writers Bloc

"Stress Positions"

By David Chandler

Bush finally caved in to McCain on the issue of torture. Or did he? The McCain ammendment only bans practices not allowed in the US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, but the Army has already approved a secret addendum to that manual.

In her forward to Amnesty International's 2005 annual report Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International spoke of the worldwide assault on fundamental human rights. She says, "Nowhere has this been more damaging than in the efforts by the US administration to weaken the absolute ban on torture."

How do you write an article condemning torture? It's like proclaiming that the devil is evil. You shouldn't need to be told that. Accusing Saddam Hussein of torturing prisoners is how the propaganda mills inside Fox news and elsewhere drummed up support for regime change. Fox didn't have to explain why torture is bad. Torture is an emotionally charged word, and rightly so. Torture is a fundamental assault on the human spirit. Many would see torture as worse than outright murder.

What is painful to watch is backers of this administration seeking to minimize or justify torture as practiced by our own government. The first thing they do is employ euphemisms: "coercive interrogation," "sleep adjustment," "stress positions." When you hear "stress position" what images come to your mind? "Stress positions" is what the Medieval Tower of London was all about. Stress positions is what crucifixion was all about. These practices are not "tantamount to torture," they ARE torture.

Irene Khan continues, "The US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to 're-define' torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the 'rendering' or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process."

Consider the comment about "ghost detainees." In the 1980s the church I belonged to in Southern California was working with refugees from El Salvador. The US routinely denied asylum to these people because we armed and supported the government that persecuted them. A term we learned early on was "disappearance." Many people were arbitrarily imprisoned or killed, but disappearance was different. Disappearance is as much an abuse of families as abuse of prisoners. If you are in prison, your family can have hope of your eventual release. If you are killed, your family can mourn. But families of the disappeared are torn apart emotionally: they can't let go of hope, yet they constantly live with their worst fears. To support foreign governments that practice disappearance is itself a crime against humanity; to justify "ghost detainees" of our own is to stamp our passport to hell.

I want to return to my earlier thought. How is it that this kind of article is even necessary? Why should anyone in this country need to be convinced that the actions of this administration violate all that is sacred in our national psyche, not to mention our laws? We want so much to believe we are pure and righteous that we close our eyes to the facts seen clearly by the rest of the world.

Amnesty International has given us a wake-up call. In presenting the 2005 annual report William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA said, "If the U.S. government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved in the torture scandal. If those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them."

Is this realistic? It's legally correct under international law. Perhaps such dramatic action is not likely, but it brings into focus the double standards at play. How can we as a people allow our leaders to violate human rights with impunity. How can Republicans allow their party to be rallied in defense of such policies? How can the Christian Right close their eyes to evil and listen only to soothing words?

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