Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Not Another Year in Review

Well, it’s another end of the year and with it comes the onslaught of year in review diaries and analysis. So, in keeping with the spirit of the times, I’d like to offer mine. Rather than review a litany of stories and issues that have developed over the past year, I thought I would do just one. I wanted to find the one story that stood out over all the others. Of course this is a formidable task considering the sheer volume of information we are bombarded with on any given day. More information does not necessarily translate into better information. As our sources of information are being reduced by mergers and media conglomerates, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of what others want us to know.

I wanted to review the year and pick out the story that troubled me the most during the past year and after thinking about it, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. While there were plenty of candidates to choose from:

1. Virginia Tech Shootings
2. Mortgage Crisis
3. The Surge in Iraq
4. Soaring Gas Prices
5. Chinese Export Recalls
6. The Jena Six
7. Global Warming Debate
8. Presidential Campaign
9. Immigration Debate
10. US Torture
11. Iran Nukes

While all of these stories were compelling and could be worthy of the top story, in my mind only one of them marked a dramatic change in our nation and in our standing on the world stage. In my opinion the most troubling story of 2007 to us as a nation is the acknowledgment of torture and the destroying of the tapes depicting its use. To me this is a turning point in the direction of our nation on a massive scale, we have not only crossed a boundary against international law, but also against humanity. The real crime is not the news of torture, it is the public acknowledgement of it. By going public the US has now legitimized its usage throughout the world and further alienated us from the civilized world.

I am not so naïve to believe that the US has not engaged in torture in the past and that this public pronouncement is a new development in American policy. On the contrary, the US has a long storied history of using “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Not only have we been partakers, but for decades have been instructors in the fine art of torture. I find it hard to believe that torture needs to be taught, but there you go. In all the hoopla surrounding the current torture debate a little reported fact was that torture was indeed a part of the curriculum at The US Army School of the Americas, located at Ft. Benning, GA. Many of the worst atrocities committed in Central and South America were done by graduates of the SOA.

It's a history exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his forthcoming book, A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesises this evidence, producing a riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture", based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix programme and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training.

Does it somehow lessen today's horrors to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture, that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, closer to home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8, Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now".[1]

The question now becomes if torture has been an ongoing modis operandi of the CIA and US military why does it warrant the top story slot? The reason it is at the top of my list is not the fact that torture is and has been practiced by the US and its proxies. No, the reason it makes the top is our response to it. Not only we’re there no protests in the streets or massive campaigns to Congress and the White House, it became a part of the campaign debate and the debate around the dinner tables and cafes of America. There was no national repudiation and condemnation; there was debate about its effectiveness. There was debate about which detainees were eligible for it and which ones weren’t. The Congress confirmed a new Attorney General who did not have to give a legal opinion on the use of torture for God’s sake, this on the heels of his predecessor writing legal opinions condoning the use of torture.

One of these days this country will have to wake up from 9/11. The truth is that 9/11 did change everything, but it didn’t have to. The thing it changed the most is that it allowed the fear-mongers, power-grubbers, and empire builders to take over without protest. It allowed civil and human rights to be violated. It allowed torture to become en vogue. It allowed neighbor to spy on neighbor. It basically gave cover to all the dark forces that have always been in America, but were kept in the crevices by common sense and dignity for human life. The goal of terrorists is to inflict terror and judging from the past six years, mission accomplished. At some point the lies will be uncovered and the insanity of the war on terror will end, then what? Will we look back in horror at what we have become or we will “whitewash” our transgressions as we have done so often in the past?


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