Progressive Writers Bloc

Responding to the Horror

By David Chandler

As of this writing the information on the Iraqi torture scandal is that the torture was intentionally orchestrated from high levels in the military and the administration as part of a clumsy and illegal intelligence gathering effort, [see also a more recent article from the Guardian] that it was widespread, that it has resulted in the deaths of some prisoners, that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been reporting on the problem to US authorities over the past year, and that similar things have been going on at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. (See our website for references to all of these facts.)

None of this is news to the Arab world. They have known about it all along because they have believed their own friends and family members who have experienced it. It is news only in that undeniable evidence has leaked out to the American public. (That puts it in the same category as the notorious "Secret Bombing of Cambodia" in the Vietnam war … not a secret to the Cambodians … not a secret to the North Vietnamese…only a secret from the US Congress and the American public.) The quibbling over whether torture should be called torture, or something less distasteful, or whether our torture is as bad as Saddam's torture, has descended to the level of defining what "is" is. Just for the record, the techniques that were used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere do in fact fit the generally accepted definition of torture.

George W. Bush acts "shocked...shocked" that torture is going on in one of our prisons. But if his hands are so clean, why did his administration invent the phony term "enemy combatant" (a term with no meaning in international law) to rationalize its violation of the Geneva Convention's requirement that prisoners of war (which is what they actually are) be treated humanely? Why would we even consider inhumane treatment of prisoners, regardless of their status? Our prisons should be examples to the world of the way things ought to be. Anything less is an invitation for our own soldiers to be treated cruelly. Why do we maintain the prisons for these so-called "enemy combatants" outside the jurisdiction of US laws in Guantanamo Bay Cuba and Central Asia? Why are the names of the prisoners kept secret, even from their own families? Why are they denied any kind of due process to determine whether we "got the right guys" and to verify for the world to see that we have a legitimate right to hold them?

My most fundamental question is why does this nation, which holds itself up as the beacon of morality in the world, refuse to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture? This convention prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" including "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental." It has been signed by most of our allies, but it should be signed by every nation on earth, with the United States at the head of the list!

Isn't the bottom-line reason most people supported the war against Iraq, even when all the phony reasons had been exposed, is that Saddam Hussein was a cruel dictator? I believe most Americans are truly appalled by human cruelty, but if we don't hold our own government accountable to the same moral standards we apply to others the blame falls on us.

Why am I ranting on like this? Do I hate America? No. I am a big supporter of "liberty and justice for all". I would like to see America live up to the values it purports to be about. We will never do that if we remain willfully ignorant of what is being done in our name around the world. If we pretend our own country is somehow sacrosanct and blind ourselves to its failings we are committing national idolatry. With the wide availability of the Internet you can read practically any newspaper in the world in English. We don't have to accept the propaganda we are fed by this (or any) administration through a compliant media. As someone said on the radio today, "We are as ignorant as we choose to be."

See for all of our articles supplemented with links to background and documentation of the central facts cited in them. We also have there links to a wide range of English language news sources from around the world.

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