Morality extends beyond the bedroom. Yet Americans are still focused on the mating habits of their fellow citizens. When we have sex, with whom we have sex and what results in the wake of that sex has preoccupied and often outraged the public. On the contrary, America’s direct participation in humiliating, immoral and illegal prisoner abuse has garnered only modest indignation. Popular media and Congressional reactionaries have said relatively little of the moral implications of such behavior.
The ideological (liberal) media and the mainstream news organizations have done their part in bringing allegations of prisoner abuse to the front pages of American newspapers. Most recently, former prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guant?namo Bay have complained of female interrogators smearing them with menstrual blood and rubbing them sexually. While Joe Ryan might view the practice more favorably, most Muslims are repulsed. As one journalist put it, “the tact reveals the religious heart of the war: the object is to kill the culture not simply the carrier.”
But Americans are in denial. Stories of sleep deprivation and electric shock first appeared in April of 2003, and as of this writing, not a single civilian official has been held accountable. The release of torture pictures paved the way for countless Congressional hearings, investigations, and condemnations that resulted in nothing more than a bureaucratic big-bang and a public relations campaign that served as a thin veneer for reform.
In a transparent attempt to obscure his administration’s direct involvement, the President publicly censured prison torture and even prosecuted several low-level participants. All the while he has tacitly authorized and approved their behavior. Former Defense Secretary and the administration’s hand-picked abuse-investigator James Schlessinger, found “both institutional and personal responsibility at higher level” as well as “indirect responsibility [that] extended up the chain of command to Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The Schlessinger Commission stipulated that the contradictory legal opinions of the administration, the inadequate number of detention-facility personnel, and the neglect to provide additional troops once the demand became apparent, (leaving the soldiers on the ground to literally fend for themselves) created confusion and laid the groundwork for the “migration” (this is Schlessinger’s term) of torture from Geneva-unprotected Guant?namo Bay into the Geneva-protected prisons of Iraq.
The author and overseer of these legal opinions was Alberto Gonzales, the current Attorney General and former White House legal council. His nomination and subsequent senate confirmation demonstrates our government’s tacit endorsement of barbarity. Gonzales advised the President to withhold Geneva Convention protections from prisoners in Afghanistan, solicited a memo in August of 2002 that allowed the President to ‘legally’ order torture and narrowly re-define torture as “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” During his senate confirmation, Gonzales did not back away from this assessment.
Taking its legal obligation rather seriously, the Bush administration decided to outsource prison torture to professionals (market capitalism at its best). Shortly after 9/11, in another legal decision, the President abandoned the Clinton practice of transferring suspected terrorists to foreign countries on a case-by-case basis, and authorized the CIA with “expansive authority” to transfer any terrorist suspect to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordon and Pakistan for interrogation. While the CIA claims that it receives “diplomatic assurances that the prisoner will be treated humanely,” the aforementioned countries are all abuse practitioners and their assurance are not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan told 60 Minutes that “the CIA definitely knows [of rendered prisoners being tortured in foreign countries]. I asked my deputy to go and speak to the CIA, and she came back and reported to me that she’d me with the CIA head of station, who told her that ‘Yes, this material probably was obtained under torture, but the CIA didn’t see that a problem.'”
The CIA might not, but the rendered and tortured do. Maher Arar was detained two weeks after 9/11, rendered to Syria, abused, and released a year later without being charged with a crime. In December of 2003, Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was taken off a bus in south-central Europe, flown on a secret CIA plane to Afghanistan, shackled, repeatedly punched, and questioned about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany. Masri too was released without being charged with a crime.
Speaking on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Michael Scheuer, who created the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and helped establish renditions under the Clinton administraiton, conceded that the administration is “finding someone else to do [its] dirty work” and admitted that even though cases of mistaken identity are likely, the practice is still worth pursuing. “You do the best you can. It’s not a science … if you make a mistake, you make a mistake.”
Such ‘mistakes’ are not viewed lightly in the Middle East. The problem with renditon is also one of perception. Asked how he explained his prolonged absense to his son, el-Mari said he “explained to him what happened… And he understood, I said it was the Americans [who did this to me].” Mari was not alone. Of all of the prisoners arrested in mass arrests and taken to Abu Ghraib during the spring of 2003, 80-95 percent (according to the army’s own estimates) were innocent civilians. Masri’s explanation has been duplicated, and its implication will be felt in the coming decades.