The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

A Nation of Cowards, Pt. 1

Eric Holder was right. We are a nation of cowards.

One might say that Attorney General Holder is proving himself to be part of that “nation of cowards” that he called the United States in a different context, i.e. our unwillingness to address the issue of race. What about when the victims of torture are Muslims? Where’s Holder’s courage then?

Surely, I was not the only one stunned by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s public admission that he helped authorize waterboarding of detainees. But, on reflection, there seems to have been a method to his madness; and, so far at least, the method seems to be working.

Have Holder and Colin Powell forgotten from their days growing up in the Bronx the typical reaction of bullies when caught in the act? “Okay, so waddaya gonna do ‘bout it!” It was an attempt at intimidation, and it was generally effective with those who felt not quite up to the challenge.

This has been the case on the issue of the economy (i.e. the bailout), and it is the same on the issue of torture. We let ourselves be bullied into re-electing Bush in 2004, after we knew about Abu Ghraib, And now we are being bullied into not prosecuting the officials responsible for putting America back on the list of nations that practice torture. Now we are being bullied into not even looking at further evidence


These are not pictures, really, that we’re looking at. They are a mirror.

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Of course, we’ve seen these before. As bad as they are, we know there’s other evidence we haven’t seen.

Donald Rumsfeld and Sen. Lindsey Graham know what we haven’t seen is much worse than what we have seen.

Graham, speaking after Rumsfeld’s Senate testimony, suggested that material in at least one tape held by Defense Department investigators could be by far the most-damaging yet to the U.S. military effort in Iraq and its prestige around the world.

"The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here. We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges,’’ Graham said to reporters. Graham said, however, he hadn’t seen the videos that are part of the investigation into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers and military contractors.

Rumsfeld, too, said that even more damaging evidence is likely to come.

"There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist. If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse."

In fact the entire senate was able to view hundreds more pictures from Abu Ghraib, worse than what we’ve seen, that the Pentagon has not released to the public.

The 100 senators were able to view hundreds of sickening pictures of prisoner abuse last night – images which the Pentagon now say will not be made publicly available.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said: “I expected that these pictures would be very hard on the stomach lining and it was significantly worse than anything that I had anticipated.

“Take the worse case and multiply it several times over,” he added.

Some snaps showed Iraqi women commanded to expose their breasts.

“I don’t know how the hell these people got into our army,” said Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, from Colorado.

“There were several pictures of Iraqi women who were disrobed or putting their shirts up.

“They were not smiling in the pictures, that’s for sure. But it didn’t look like they had been beaten or hurt.”

“It was pretty disgusting, not what you’d expect from Americans,” said Senator Norm Coleman.

And if Seymour Hersh – whose reporting has been pretty reliable so far – is right, there is much, much worse that we haven’t seen.

Hersh gave a speech last week to the ACLU making the charge that children were sodomized in front of women in the prison, and the Pentagon has tape of it. The speech was first reported in a New York Sun story last week, which was in turn posted on Jim Romenesko’s media blog, and now and other blogs are linking to the video. We transcribed the critical section here (it starts at about 1:31:00 into the ACLU video.) At the start of the transcript here, you can see how Hersh was struggling over what he should say:

"Debating about it, ummm … Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying ’Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out."

"It’s impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there? When I did My Lai I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened. I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had, I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers and so we’re dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher, and we have to get to it and we will. We will. You know there’s enough out there, they can’t (Applause). …. So it’s going to be an interesting election year."

Also, The Telegraph described a videotape made by U.S. soldiers that showed Iraqi guards raping young boys. The Guardian reported "formal statements by inmates published yesterday describe horrific treatment at the hands of guards, including the rape of a teenage Iraqi boy by an army translator."

Much was said about Saddam’s "rape rooms" in the buildup to the Iraq war, in the build-up to the Iraq war. I do not doubt their existence or the veracity of the victims statements. The documented atrocities commited by Saddam Hussein and his regime, were touted as justification for invading Iraq, in the build-up to the war. And upon reports of mass graves of some of Saddam’s victims being uncovered, I even heard some supporters claiming (in the face of clear Iraqi opposition to U.S. occupation) declare of those in the graves, "Those people want us there."

But never mind the likelihood that they would have preferred U.S. intervention at some point prior to their interment. The truth is that Saddam Hussein had the full support of the U.S. even as his rape rooms operated, and other atrocities were committed by his regime.

Although most of Hussein’s large-scale atrocities took place during the 1980s and early 1990s, his tenure was also characterized by day-to-day atrocities that attracted less notice. Wartime rhetoric regarding Hussein’s "rape rooms," death by torture, decisions to slaughter the children of political enemies, and the casual machine-gunning of peaceful protesters accurately reflected the day-to-day policies of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Hussein was no misunderstood despotic "madman." He was a monster, a butcher, a brutal tyrant, a genocidal racist–he was all of this, and more.

But what this rhetoric does not reflect is that, until 1991, Saddam Hussein was allowed to commit his atrocities with the full support of the U.S. government. The specifics of the al-Anfal Campaign were no mystery to the Reagan administration, but the decision was made to support the genocidal Iraqi government over the pro-Soviet theocracy of Iran, even to the point of making ourselves complicit in crimes against humanity.

…Saddam Hussein was unquestionably one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century. History cannot even begin to record the full scale of his atrocities and the effect they had on those affected and the families of those affected. But his most horrific acts, including the al-Anfal genocide, were committed in full view of our government–the government that we present to the world as a shining beacon of human rights.

Make no mistake: The ouster of Saddam Hussein was a victory for human rights, and if there is any silver lining to come from the brutal Iraq War, it is that Hussein is no longer slaughtering and torturing his own people. But we should fully recognize that every indictment, every epithet, every moral condemnation we issue against Saddam Hussein also indicts us. We should all be ashamed of the atrocities that were committed under our leaders’ noses, and with our leaders’ blessing.

Nevertheless, we were supposed to be different, this time. We made promises to be different this time.

"The Iraqi people are now free. And they do not have to worry about the secret police coming after them in the middle of the night, and they don’t have to worry about their husbands and brothers being taken off and shot, or their wives being taken to rape rooms. Those days are over."-Paul Bremer, Administrator, [Iraq] Coalition Provisional Authority, Sept. 2, 2003

"Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers."-President Bush, remarks to 2003 Republican National Committee Presidential Gala, Oct. 8, 2003

In the end, we ended up creating our own "rape rooms" in Iraq, or at least allowing them to be created on our watch. And it happened because we opened that door when "sexual humiliation" was accepted as an "enhanced interrogation" technique. No surprise, considering that rape is now known to be an effective weapon of war. (Something else that Senators were recently told, though it’s been known by invading and occupying armies for centuries.)

In his book, Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey Through Iraq, Tony Lagouranis, an Army interrogator whose New York Times op-ed helped spark debate about "enhanced interrogation" techniques when it appeared in 2006, quotes a relevant passage from George Orwell’s "Shooting an elephant.

I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow… For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives"… He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.

It is relevant to the times we live in. We are afraid our faces will or even have grown to fit the mask we’ve worn in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and various "Black sites" around the globe. Better to disavow that mask. Even if that means keeping it on, rather than taking it off and looking at it.

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