The American Gulag

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First there was the outrage of Guantanamo Bay. Then Abu Ghraib came. And after all the whispers about our government shipping "insurgents"  to countries that permit torture, we now hear of the torture of detainees by Iraqi authorities that we trained.

In Washington, the lying and denying continues. For in spite of the growing mountain of evidence, the Administration and the Congress refuse to admit the obvious: that the issue of torture has to be addressed. To his credit, Senator John McCain has tried to do just that by sponsoring an anti-torture bill. And as a former Vietnam POW he no doubt understands the pitfalls of legitimizing torture. The White House and other Republicans are trying to stymie McCain’s effort. In fact, the White House threatened to veto the measure after their request to exclude the actions of the CIA was scoffed at. This effort suggests that the stories of secret torture sites in Europe are credible. If they aren't why the attempt to exempt the CIA from scrutiny?

The issue of torture came up early on during the Afghanistan campaign and at the start of the Iraqi War. Guantanamo Bay became our American Gulag, home to our torture chambers. Many claim that the stories of torture there are being blown out of proportion. Erik Sarr tells another story. Sarr, a U.S. soldier, was a translator at Guantanamo from December 2002 to June 2003. Because he speaks Arabic he was assigned to work with the interrogation teams, where he witnessed the techniques being used. Horrified and disillusioned by what he saw he has written a book about his experiences there called "Inside The Wire." 

Among the outrages he documents is the use of "snatch teams," also known as the Initial Reaction Force (IRF) who are responsible for removing uncooperative prisoners from their cells. In one such "snatch" he tells of how one prisoner's arm was broken. He also talks about the decision to use sexual torture in a manner sure to be seen by Muslims as sac religious. This includes using semi-nude female interrogators to grope and rub the genitalia of captives. He says that one female interrogator smeared fake blood on a detainee while telling him that she was menstruating. "That's a big deal," he warns. "It is a major insult to one of the world's biggest religions where we are trying to win hearts and minds." Sarr states that the Geneva Convention is not being followed.

It’s now been nearly two years since the shocking pictures of Abu Ghraib made their way into our consciousness. We saw glimpses of the mistreatment being perpetrated to "liberate" the Iraqis. Pfc. Lindie England, Sgt. Charles Granger Jr., Spc. Jeremy Sivits, Spc. Armin J. Cruz, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick have all been identified, charged and sentenced for abuses relating to the horrors of Abu Ghraib. But these soldiers are "small fish" in the larger cesspool of this immoral scandal, because the desensitization and dehumanization illustrated in these outrages mirror the hatred that's in the hearts of our leaders.

Since 9-11 the vitriol being spewed by Washington has enflamed the nation's anger against Arabs, Muslims or anyone who fits that profile. That reality mixed with the nation's cultural ignorance, bigotry and fear has made a bad situation worse. Many try to minimize the charges of torture by saying that they represent aberrations. But if our conduct here at home is any indication those claims are specious. Some of us remember all the attacks perpetrated here in the wake of 9-11. Scores of people were attacked for looking different. Several lost their lives. In New York, there have been repeated attacks against Sikhs from India, just because they look like “those people over there.� Given the brutal attacks that have transpired here at home how can we pretend that the stories we hear about torture from the war zone are unfounded?

America has always been an intolerant country. That's a fact. One need only look at the past treatment and segregation of ethnic minorities. The torture and genocide of millions of Native Americans is a part of the record, no matter how we ignore it in history books. Then we have the torture of the most maligned group in the history of this country: African Americans. First, there were the horrors of slavery which made this country the superpower it is today. Then after emancipation there was the period of lynching. Untold thousands were tortured and murdered right up to the sixties.

The torture being committed now by our military is counter-productive in the so-called war on terror. These acts will only create more vengeance and perpetuate terror. We must ask ourselves if we want the world to see us as a nation of torturers. Then again, our history says that's just what we are.

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