Monday, April 04, 2005


Why are we torturing people?

Last Monday I mentioned in passing the story of Murat Kurnaz, one of the Guantánamo prisoners. Since then, Chris Floyd has taken up the case in his column for the Moscow Times. Floyd pens one of the finest excoriations of the Bush administration and its allies in the media that I have read. But he also proposes a theory of the torture that to my knowledge has not been made, and which makes sense.

With regard to torture, let's forget any moral considerations, since I have none, but stick to the matter of the efficacy of torture as an intelligence-gathering tool. When we take into account that tortured dead men yield no intelligence and that the tactic has further enraged friend and foe alike, it is not inappropriate to ask "Why is the U.S. doing this?" (And I should mention that the media seem not to ask the question.)

At the level of the foot-soldier, the answer is not hard to discern and has been present in all American wars—frustration, anger, revenge. But in the current situation a large dollop of high-level encouragement has been tossed into the mix, producing torture and killing of prisoners on a scale not seen in other American military adventures, or at least not acknowledged.

So the question is not about the corporals and MPs, it's about the military and civilian higher-ups. These are the "cool-headed" decision-makers who must promote or censure a tactic.

It may be that they truly believe torture to be an efficacious intelligence-gathering device. Certainly the training the U.S. military provided to foreign military leaders at what used to be known as "The School of the Americas" might indicate as much. But if so, why don't our leaders make their case and take their stand? I have no doubt they would receive widespread public support if torture were presented as essential to the defense of the country, as was done in the BBC-HBO video "Dirty War."

Or it could be that our leaders are not so "cool-headed" and are unable to suppress their own desires for revenge—somewhat similar to Saddam Hussein's actions against the Kurdish and Shia populations of Iraq, presuming that Saddam ordered those atrocities more out of passion than calculation.

Or it could be ... well, first the facts of Murat Kurnaz' case and then Chris Floyd's answer to the question—

Today we take up the case of Murat Kurnaz, one of the thousands of innocent captives held illegally in the belly of the new American beast: U.S. President George W. Bush's deadly global gulag, where homicide and torture are quite literally the order of the day.

Kurnaz, a German national of Turkish descent, was grabbed from a bus of Muslim missionaries in Pakistan in October 2001, when Bush was getting his first taste of unbridled blood-and-iron power. Although Kurnaz was far from the battlefield in Afghanistan, he was of course guilty of being one of those swarthy Koraniacs, so he was shoved through the beast's guts before ending up in the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, The Washington Post reported.

There he languished for more than two years until he was hauled before one of Bush's "military tribunals" last fall. The khaki kangaroo court duly ruled that Kurnaz was a heinous terrorist who should be locked up forever — despite the fact that both U.S. military intelligence and German police had cleared him of any connection whatsoever to terrorist activity anywhere in the world. Completely ignoring almost 100 pages of exculpatory evidence offered by these experts, the kangaroos relied instead on a brief, uncorroborated memo submitted by an unidentified Bush official just before the proceedings began.

The last-minute Bush memo — clearly intended to keep Kurnaz in chains without charges, without counsel, without appeal, for the rest of his life — "fails to provide significant details to support its conclusory allegations, does not reveal the sources for its information and is contradicted by other evidence in the record," said a federal judge who examined the case. In other words, it was just lies and unfounded assertions — the same scam the Bushists used to "justify" their war crime in Iraq.

The judge ruled that Kurnaz's imprisonment, indeed, Bush's whole kangaroo pen, was illegal and unconstitutional. To which Bush — a staunch defender of law, liberty and civilization — answered: Who cares? So Kurnaz, 23, remains in captivity: year after year of hellish limbo, his youth sacrificed to the caprice of the prissy autocrat in the White House. Meanwhile, Bush is appealing all of the pending judicial challenges to his arbitrary power, while ignoring or skirting any ruling that goes against him. As we first reported here in November 2001, he continues to assert his right to capture, imprison or even assassinate anyone on earth he designates a "terrorist," without any judicial review or congressional oversight of his decision.

The Washington Post — normally a willing handmaiden of Bush's abuses of power, marshalling "bipartisan consensus" behind his blood-soaked foreign policy and much of his morally deranged domestic agenda — seemed uncharacteristically troubled by the Kurnaz case. Perhaps the tyranny was a touch too blatant for the paper's well-wadded consensus-seekers. They brought in an expert on military law to "suggest" that the tribunals might be — gasp! — "a sham," where "the merest scintilla of evidence against someone would carry the day for the government, even if there's a mountain of evidence on the other side." Another lawyer wondered why the U.S. government would ever imprison a man it knew was innocent.

Poor lambs. Now that the American Republic has been well and truly lost — seized by a band of extremist goons after decades of slow rot from corporate and militarist corruption — a few Establishment worthies are bestirring themselves to express some mild perplexity at the hideous reality that has arisen outside their comfortable cocoons. But their questions come too late. The reality is already entrenched.

Each day brings new revelations of torture, murder and government whitewash in Bush's gulag. At least 108 prisoners have died in Bush's captivity so far; dozens of these have been listed as homicides, CBS reported. But last week, the Pentagon declined to prosecute 17 soldiers for brutal murders of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite the recommendation of Army prosecutors. Army investigators also released 1,200 pages of new evidence last week detailing widespread "systematic and intentional" abuse of prisoners throughout Iraq, especially in Mosul; again, the Pentagon declined to prosecute. A trial of low-ranking scapegoats who, under orders, "pulpified" an Afghan prisoner's leg in a fatal beating revealed that such "compliance blows" were taught by the Pentagon as an "accepted way" of dealing with prisoners, Knight-Ridder reported.

As for the cocooners' anxious questions — "Why imprison the innocent? Why the sham tribunals? What's with all this torture stuff?" — there is a simple answer. Bush's gulag has little to do with "fighting terrorism"; it is itself an instrument of terror — state terror — designed to strike "pre-emptive" fear into the hearts of anyone, at home or abroad, who might oppose the Regime's crusade to make the world safe for klepto-plutocracy. Such a system actually requires innocent victims and lawlessness, in order to underscore its arbitrary nature — an essential element of terror. For Bush, Murat Kurnaz is a more important prisoner than a genuine criminal like Osama bin Laden.

All of which, by the way, explains what it was that the U.S. was really trying to teach at the School of the Americas, our school for dictators.

Related posts
"September 11, 2001 ... cannot be the day liberty perished":
Protesters win one on appeal
Evidence from torture OK, says the government (12/2/04)
Early warning on Guantánamo torture from the FBI (12/6/04)
Dirty propaganda in a "Dirty War" (updated) (2/24/05)
In case you were wondering who is really behind Guantánamo (3/28/05)

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