Viewpoint: Torture: America’s sordid record

Americans have been shocked and stunned at the revelations of misdeeds by our troops in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. We believed U.S. soldiers simply didn’t do such things, but the truth is torture and abuse of prisoners has a long and dishonorable history with our forces.

Despite right-wing talk radio’s contention that the prison incidents were not at all like real torture, the fact is we wrote the book on these practices, and we have taught other unscrupulous forces how to use them.

Most of us have read of and heard about the protests at Ft. Benning, Ga., of the Army’s “School of the Americas.” This was and is a program to train counter-insurgents and other forces in torture and assassination. You’ve seen the reports in these pages in the past. The protests have been effective to an extent. The Army changed the name to the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” Still, the terror training goes on.

During a discussion of the Abu Ghraib scandal on Wisconsin Public Radio, one caller told of serving in Panama in 1969 at the school’s forerunner. He said he participated in instruction so barbaric that “you wouldn’t believe.”

James Glaser was with the Marines in Vietnam. Today, he is an advocate for veterans’ interests and is a regular writer on related subjects. Way before we heard anything about Abu Ghraib, he wrote an article about prisoner abuse at U.S. camps in Afghanistan. “Yes, America does torture people to death,” Glaser said.

Then there are the revelations at Detroit in 1971 at the Winter Soldier gathering under the auspices of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The personal stories of Vietnam vets were so horrific and damning that conservative elements have been trying to discredit that report ever since, particularly now that the former leader of the group, John Kerry, is running for president.

A number of years before the Detroit report, the Quaker American Friends Service Committee published a book detailing torture and atrocities by U.S. troops and ARVN soldiers which they witnessed in Vietnam.

That volume demonstrated clearly that My Lai was not an aberration. It related such inhuman incidents as hurling prisoners from airborne helicopters. Progressive Review, in its current issue, presents a chilling overview of American torture. It is impossible to read these accounts and not feel the line between Nazism and U.S. right-wing reaction has been crossed.

Free lance writer Dennis Rahkonen commented: “Although the photographed Abu Ghraib perpetrators certainly deserve being deemed depraved, it’s inconceivable–given the strictures of the military chain of command–that their abuses could be carried out in isolation from knowledge (active complicity) by higher ups.”

That’s the fact that has put Mr. Rumsfeld in such an uncomfortable position. In spite of the unassailable logic of it, “Rummy” continues to try to justify what happened and believes he can still yank his chestnuts out of the fire.

Some members of the press and their readers were aware of these kinds of serious allegations in both Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time. These reports have existed for at least six months. The International Red Cross and Human Rights Watch both relayed their concerns to the Pentagon and the White House, but there was no action.

Yet, some right-wingers continue to say we’re making too much of all this. “This is war,” they bellow, and anything goes. Rahkonen replies that “…the morally bankrupt can’t either win or expect to.” Their argument also ignores the fact that up to 20,000 “detainees” in Iraq could be simply innocent young Iraqi men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as sweeps were being carried out by the U.S. military.

Abu Ghraib is only the beginning. To contend otherwise is not only illogical, it is delusional.

Not only should the involved military be punished, but there should be a thorough and stringent inquiry into the extent of laxities and lack of oversight among the Defense Department’s private contractors.

Our propaganda has always portrayed U.S. forces as “the good guys.” In fact, Americans have routinely engaged in the worst imaginable abuses in all parts of our foreign policy conduct, including prisoner abuse.

Racism is a big factor in the latter. Try to imagine a white-skinned prisoner being paraded with a leash around his neck as the Baghdad prison photos showed.

We need to begin a process to back this country away from the neo-conservatives’ imperialist fantasies of invasion, conquest and occupation. As Walt Kelly’s Pogo so neatly phrased it in the Vietnam era: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Source: Online Journal

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