Kelly Sans Culotte


Torture and America
So this is us.
By Kelly Cogswell

Two American soldiers grin over a pyramid of naked prisoners.

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MAY 13, 2004. Given time, we'll document how the systematic abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was tried out in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. We'll uncover the secret facilities from Qatar to Jordan now holding some of the United State's almost 10,000 prisoners and close them down. But it will take a lot longer if the Bush administration remains at the helm. And with every wasted minute, the damage becomes more irreparable.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, there is Pentagon confirmation that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself approved measures in Guantánamo. There, all detainees are stripped naked during interrogations. They are forced to hold "stress" positions, subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, and moved around in hoods.

Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man who headed up that democratic beacon of Guantánamo, is supposed to turn the situation around at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. You could say he's already done it once. During a trip to Abu Ghraib last August and September to improve the flow of intelligence, he was apparently the one who recommended that prison guards become more "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of internees."

At Abu Ghraib, as in Miller's Guantánamo, nakedness and sexual humiliation play a big role. The International Committee of the Red Cross has documented instances in which prisoners at Abu Ghraib were being held "completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness," apparently for several days.

They also recorded "acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the heads for prolonged periods — while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position."

In mid-January, the organization's president, Jakob Kellenberger, directly informed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

The fallout from their failure to act, if not their actual endorsement of the torture, has given an exponential boost to anti-US sentiment. Islamist terrorists used the humiliation of Muslim prisoners as an excuse for their brutal execution Tuesday of American Nicholas Berg. The mudslide of photos and video depicting months of abuses will no doubt be a big recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Images of men forced to wear women's underwear over their faces and engage in homosexual activity will also inflame misogyny and homophobia. Forget about Bush's anti-gay marriage stand in the United States. By tolerating this behavior in Iraq and elsewhere, his administration has made homosexuality abhorrent world-wide. The image of an American woman holding a prisoner's leash will be used as a potent argument against modernization and the emancipation of women.

It is not only the naked shivering prisoners that are being debased and degraded, but the jolly American soldiers giving the thumbs up beside them, and by proxy, the whole United States. American voices currently trying to speak out against genocide in the Sudan have been all but silenced.

Luc Sante wrote in the New York Times, "The pictures from Abu Ghraib are trophy shots. The American soldiers included in them look exactly as if they were standing next to a gutted buck or a 10-foot marlin... There was something familiar about that jaunty insouciance, that unabashed triumph at having inflicted misery upon other humans. And then I remembered: the last time I had seen that conjunction of elements was in photographs of lynchings..."

He went on, "Before seeing such pictures you might expect the faces in them to express some kind of collective rage; instead the mood is giddy, often verging on hysterical, with a distinct sexual undercurrent."

It's not just what we did, but how.

From the Web

New York Times: An Afghan Gives His Own Account of U.S. Abuse
New York Times: Tourists and Torturers by Luc Sante
Washington Post: U.S. arranges to detain and interrogate terror suspects in secret
Los Angeles Times: A Double Ordeal for Female Prisoners
The Guardian: Brutality in US prisons - the home truths

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