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Torture and the "Controversial" Arc of Injustice

Torture and the "Controversial" Arc of Injustice
By Norman Solomon, AlterNet. Posted September 29, 2005.

What are we to make of the fact that the media considers torture controversial -- instead of clearly unjust?

Several decades ago, "controversial" subjects in news media included many issues that are now well beyond controversy. During the first half of the 1960s, fierce arguments raged in print and on the airwaves about questions like: Does a black person (a "Negro," in the language of the day) have the right to sit at a lunch counter, or stay at a hotel, the same way that a white person does? Should the federal government insist on upholding such rights all over the country?

Some agonizing disputes, in the media and on the ground, came to a climax with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Suddenly, after many decades of struggles against Jim Crow, federal law explicitly barred racial discrimination in public accommodations and employment. After President Lyndon Johnson signed the measure, saying "Let us close the springs of racial poison," controversy faded about access to restaurants and hotels.

But the need for civil rights protests continued, and for a time they increasingly focused on the right to vote. Banning poll taxes, literacy tests and other timeworn devices of discrimination that were routine in the South, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed. White supremacists howled about states' rights, but the law took hold.

Meanwhile, housing remained an aspect of society replete with flagrant bias. And "fair housing" became a new benchmark for progress in the sights of civil rights activists. The forces of bigotry were sometimes overt but often used coded language. During a gubernatorial campaign in Maryland, a leading candidate pandered to white racism by adopting the slogan "A man's home is his castle." But for the backlash forces, the last-ditch arguments and slogans failed. In April 1968, President Johnson signed a bill that prohibited racial discrimination in rentals and sales of housing units.

Looking back on the 1960s, it's notable that the wisdom of those civil rights laws is now accepted by almost the entire political spectrum. "Controversial" issues became non-controversial when advocates of human-rights positions were able to get appropriate measures enacted into law.

In a sense, for human rights, we can gauge the progress of our society by assessing what has been settled and what is in open dispute.

So, today, what are we to make of the fact that torture is controversial?

In late September, there were new reports that U.S. soldiers have engaged in extreme abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Sen. John McCain responded by voicing support for a Senate measure that would require the American military to adhere to the Geneva Convention's prohibitions on torture.

Sadly, rather than just taking a moral position, McCain felt the need to point out that torture means bad public relations for Uncle Sam: "We've got to have it stopped. It is hurting America's image abroad."

Obviously, even when McCain offers pragmatic arguments for why U.S. military forces shouldn't be torturing people, the anti-torture amendment is a tough sell in American politics today. "Told that the White House was opposed to such an amendment and that the president might veto the bill if the amendment were included, McCain said he was unsure whether there were enough votes in the Senate to override it," the Los Angeles Times reported on Sept. 26.

Torture. Controversial. In 2005 -- not 1505, 1705 or 1905 -- in the 21st century, in a country that claims to be at the world's vanguard of democracy and human rights.

Trying to gain political leverage for his, uh, controversial position against torture, McCain was strategic during a Sept. 25 appearance on ABC's "This Week" program. Speaking of the Bush administration, he said: "I hope that they will understand why we're trying to do this and why it's so important to America's image in the world."

Similar arguments were made more than 40 years ago, when fire hoses and police dogs were pointed and unleashed at young civil rights demonstrators. And it was true: the vicious actions of a white supremacist power structure did make the United States look bad in the world. But that argument was far from the most compelling reasons to support civil rights for all Americans.

Should the U.S. military be engaging in torture? Evidently, such questions are now controversial. That should tell us something about the news media's current political climate in the United States of America.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," Martin Luther King Jr. said. But sometimes, the media framing of a controversy indicates that the arc has been thrown into reverse.


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Author: Chris Floyd
Source: Moscow Times

Quietly, firmly, relentlessly, the good captain laid out the list of atrocities committed at the order of the enemies of freedom: "Death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment." A catalogue of depravity, all of it designed -- with diabolical sophistry -- by self-exalted men cloaking their violent perversions with sham piety and righteous sputum. This was terrorism on a grand scale, chewing up the innocent and guilty alike.

The good man is of course Captain Ian Fishback, the born-again U.S. Army officer who has blown the whistle on the systematic abuse of captives rounded up in President George W. Bush's War on Terror, The New York Times reports. Fishback, frustrated after 17 months of trying to get the atrocities investigated through official channels, finally turned to Human Rights Watch -- and top Republican senators -- seeking redress for the bloody dishonor that Bush has brought upon America.

In one sense, Fishback's revelations -- corroborated by other soldiers, now lying low to ward off the inevitable reprisals by Bush minions -- are not news. For example, this column has been detailing the use of torture in Bush's global gulag since January 2002. It was no secret; at first, the Bushists even bragged about it. "The gloves are coming off" was a favorite phrase of the deskbound tough guys cracking foxy to an enthralled media.

They also boasted of "unleashing" the CIA, which set up its own "shadow army" of non-uniformed combatants operating outside the law -- i.e., "terrorists," according to Bush's own definition -- while creating secret prisons all over the world. As one CIA op enthused to The Boston Globe: "'We are doing things I never believed we would do -- and I mean killing people!" A senior Bush official proudly pointed to the ultimate authority for this deadly system: "If the commander in chief didn't think it was appropriate, we wouldn't be doing it."

We now know that in the very first weeks of the War on Terror, White House legal lackeys began concocting weasel-worded "findings" to justify a range of Torquemadan techniques while shielding Bush honchos from prosecution for the clear breaches of U.S. and international law they were already planning. Bush and his top officials signed off on very specific torture parameters, including physical assault and psychological torment; even beating a captive to death was countenanced, as long the killer proclaimed that he had no murder in his heart when he commenced to whupping, The New York Review of Books reports. Indeed, the lackeys went so far as to establish a new principle of Executive Transcendence: The president, they claimed, could not be constrained by any law whatsoever in his conduct of the War on Terror.

Fishback saw the fruits of this vile labor in the vast Bushist holding pens in Iraq, where thousands upon thousands of Iraqis were herded, beaten and tortured -- even though 70 to 90 percent of them were innocent of any crime, the International Red Cross reported in 2004. The incidents he and the other soldiers detailed took place before, during -- and after -- the photographic revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib. The mayhem "happened every day," said the soldiers, and it was committed "under orders from military intelligence personnel to soften up detainees."

"They wanted intel," said a sergeant, one of the ordinary, untrained grunts pressed into duty as interrogation muscle. "As long as no [captives] came up dead, it happened. We kept it to broken arms and legs" -- sometimes with baseball bats, and occasionally augmented by scalding naked prisoners with burning chemicals. The soldiers learned their "stress techniques" from CIA interrogators, dropping into Iraq from their "unleashed" torture centers in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia and points unknown.

But of course they didn't always "keep it" to broken arms and legs. Fishback, who had been trying desperately to get his superiors to act on the atrocities he'd witnessed himself, discovered that a captive had been "interrogated" to death. From that point on, while still urging official action, he also began gathering evidence and testimony from fellow officers about the nightmarish regimen, the Los Angeles Times reports. When at long last he began to realize "that the Army is deliberately misleading the American people about detainee treatment within our custody," he stepped out of the system -- and into the storm.

What will come of the good captain's moral courage? Nothing much. A Pentagon investigation has been belatedly launched; no doubt a few more bad eggs will be fried, just as the hapless Lynndie England, poster girl for Abu Ghraib, was convicted this week for "aberrations" that, as Fishback confirms, were countenanced and encouraged throughout Iraq. Fishback himself will be certainly slimed in one of Karl Rove's patented smear campaigns. By next week, the upright, Bible-believing West Point grad -- a veteran of both the Afghan and Iraqi wars -- will be transformed by Fox News and the war-porn bloggers into a cowardly, anti-American terrorist sympathizer under the hypnotic control of Michael Moore.

Meanwhile, one of the Republican senators Fishback approached, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has already put the kibosh on legislation setting clear legal guidelines for prisoner treatment. Frist, a goonish errand boy now under investigation for insider trading, killed the bill after hearing Fishback's evidence. His White House masters don't want any legal clarity for their dark deeds; they can only thrive in the murk of moral chaos.

One thing is certain: The true architects of these atrocities will never face justice. They'll go on to peaceful, prosperous retirements, heedless of the broken bodies and broken nations -- including their own -- left behind in their foul wake.


3 in 82nd Airborne Say Beating Iraqi Prisoners Was Routine
New York Times, Sept. 23, 2005

Officer's Road Led Him Outside Army
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 25, 2005

New Accounts of Torture by U.S. Troops
Human Rights Watch, Sept. 24, 2005

Patterns of Abuse
Time Magazine, Sept. 23, 2005

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners 'was sport'
Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 25, 2005

Officer Criticizes Detainee Abuse Inquiry
New York Times, Sept. 28, 2005

CIA Takes on Major Military Role
Boston Globe, Jan. 20, 2002

Dark as a Dungeon
Empire Burlesque, Sept. 28, 2005

Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story
New York Review of Books, Oct. 7, 2004

Private Gets 3 Years for Iraqi Prison Abuse
New York Times, Sept. 28, 2005

We are All Torturers Now
New York Times, Jan. 6, 2005

The Torture Memos: A Legal Narrative
CounterPunch, Feb. 2, 2005

Alberto Gonzales' Tortured Arguments for Reigning Above the Law
LA Weekly, Jan. 14-20, 2005

Torture and Truth
New York Review of Books, June 10, 2004

Torture Treaty Doesn't Bar `Cruel, Inhuman' Tactics, Gonzales Says
Knight-Ridder, Jan. 26, 2005

The Stain of Torture
Washington Post, July 1, 2005

Break Them Down: The Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces
Physicians for Human Rights, 2005

Medical Care and Detainees: A Discussion with Dr. Burton Lee III
Washington Post, July 1, 2005

Gonzales Excludes CIA from Rules on Prisoners
New York Times, Jan. 20, 2005

The Secret World of US Jails
The Observer, June 13, 2004

War Pornography
East Bay Express, Sept. 21, 2005

[Bush Order] Lets CIA Freely Send Suspects to Foreign Jails
New York Times, March 6, 2005

Secret Way to War
TomDispatch - The New York Review of Books, May 15, 2005

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