Sixty-thousand people, according to WBAI’s reporting of the police estimate, marched in the streets of New York on a sunny, cold Saturday protesting the murders of black people. Earlier the same week the Senate Torture Report detailing the cruel and inhumane, and murderous, treatment of those Muslims called our enemies is released. Is there a connection to be made?
My black and brown students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who were in elementary school when the U.S. torture program was instigated have been on the streets protesting the grand-jury verdicts that have refused to indict two police officers and the on-going, escalating police violence in communities of color. “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot.” “I can’t breathe.” “Black lives matter,” are the young people’s rallying cries.
I was marching this Saturday with the young and with so many others, first through Brooklyn on the Fort Green Peace and Brooklyn for Peace feeder marches, then uptown from Washington Square. Those of us from Brooklyn carried signs with names and photos of many of our neighbors who have been killed by police.
I tell my students about the U.S. torture program. I talk to them about how the police have become militarized in the wake of September 11th and our never-ending wars. I discuss with them the terrible truth that a nation that tortures its enemies is going to torture its citizens, too. And is there nothing that can be done?
After a protracted struggle between the U.S. Congressional oversight committee, the C.I.A. and the Obama administration, the world has been allowed to read the summary of the Senate’s Torture Report, in redacted form, released to the public on December 9, with great courage by Senator Diane Feinstein.
The report conclusively concludes the C.I.A. practiced torture, even more extensively than previously “known”—except by those who wished to know—and repeatedly lied about it; they told obliging members of the press to lie about it, too. The report concludes that torture does not work, that “information” gained by torture did not thwart one single plot (though torture victims made up quite a few to get the pain to stop) nor did torture produce one piece of necessary intelligence, nor did information gained by torture lead the Navy Seals to their murder of Osama bin Laden—supposedly torture’s finest moment, memorialized in the Hollywood film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
As is usual with a nation that tortures, there is now a great debate—which won’t last long as Americans’ historical memories are notoriously short. “What torture program?”asked a Brooklyn neighbor, devotee of Ayn Rand, just a few days before the Senate released the report. If there were now, no debate but, instead, at last, with official evidence at hand, the collective will to remedy the unlawful transgressions of the past for the sake of the collective future there would be united understanding that those who tortured must be brought to justice; just as those who kill unarmed black boys and men on the streets must be brought to justice.
From the top on down, the instigators and creators of the U.S. torture program should be put on trial. Just as those who practice police brutality, who initiate “broken window” policing and harassment of young people, should be stopped.
First, we should apologize and pay retribution to the many innocent victims of our torture—those who were picked up by mistake, or sold to the U.S. by bounty hunters, who were rendered to black sites, and abused for many months or years—77 of whom remain to this day in Guantanamo, though officially cleared for release. We should make amends. Just as we should pay retribution and apologize to the bereaved families of the young people who have lost their lives.
Those in the torture room, some of whom did rebel in the moment, but were told by higher ups to continue, the petty functionaries of the great plan to “protect” the nation, the adrenaline pumped private contractors, the lowly enlisted men and women, we might forgive. They could publicly own their actions in some sort of redemptive truth and reconciliation process and never again be employed in any sort of position where they might have or take power over any other—like prison guards or cops. Because there is a revolving door between torture rooms and domestic law enforcement—and this must not be allowed.
The masterminds of the torture program, the president, George Bush (often “kept in the dark”, the report rather aptly says) Vice President Dick Cheney, and their men, Secretary of Justice John Ashcroft, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who rewrote the laws to define torture as “legal”; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who crowed with delight and wondered what was wrong with being made to stand as he stood eight hours a day at his desk (without being suspended, his hands tied over head, toes barely touching the ground, without being naked, one presumes) and George Tenet and Michael Hayden of the C.I.A. alongside the two former army psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James E. Mitchell, who made $81 million off the torture program they engineered, these people have committed crimes against humanity and need to be held accountable. So says the rule of U.S. and international law.
But the U.S. has become a nation that no longer prosecutes evil-doers. The only person ever to go to prison over torture is the C.I.A. whistle-blower, John Kiriakou, currently serving 30 months for saying that water-boarding is torture and is illegal and for naming a retired torturer. Our prison system is full of people who have committed no violent crime and who took a plea deal, exactly as Kiriakou did, though his only crime was truth-telling, to escape a draconian sentence threatened by the state.
‘A load of crap,” is how former Vice-President Dick Cheney characterized the Congressional Torture Report. “A lot of hooey,” former C.I.A. Director Michael Hayden, echoed. “Patriots,” said current C.I.A Director John Brennan about those who tortured at the behest of their government. This is the “other side” in our torture debate? These people don’t believe in documented truth even though the Congressional report is taken straight from classified C.I.A. records. There are 2000 photographs that supposedly will never be released, so graphic are they; and there were video tapes of torture destroyed before they could be viewed. But evidence is evidently meaningless. The torture cadre believes what it believes; they did no wrong. So, too, it seems do the Ferguson and New York City police.
“It’s hard to believe that anything will be done now. Republicans, who will soon control the Senate and have the majority on the intelligence panel, denounced the report,” comments the New York Times editorial page, glumly accepting the inevitable. And aren’t we, the citizens of a nation that tortured supposed to glumly, or blindly, also now accept “that nothing can be done.”
“Such language is not helpful,” wrote Jose A. Rodriquez Jr., then head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, in a memo to staffers, telling them to shut up about their doubts about the C.I.A. torture program—and not to use the “T” word in memos.
The “F” word, however, is much in favor. Remember, say the C.I.A. apologists, how much Fear there was; how frightened we were in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Frightened people torture, goes the reasoning, in order to keep the rest of us safe. Frightened people also shoot unarmed black young men and children like Tamir Rice, who only 12 years old when he was gunned down–Tamir’s death has been ruled a homicide, but so was Eric Garner’s. Fear creates cowards who delight in sexually humiliating detainees, there is an awful lot of anal-genital intrusion in our torture history—so much penetration of the hapless other that the pornographic side of torture can hardly be ignored.
These big brave men, from the President on down, were turned into terrified children trying out forbidden sexual games to quell their anxieties. “Rectal hydration” is the newest term, a tactic imaginable only by perverse, homophobic bullies, obviously far removed from interrogation. Again, on the home front, Abner Louima comes to mind, sodomized with a broom stick way back in 1997, in his local police precinct. What goes around comes around.
What, I sometimes wonder, would our lives be like if Osama bin Laden had been put on trial in an international court of law for the crimes of 9/11? There is evidence that the Taliban who understood Afghanistan was about to be attacked offered to surrender their “guest” if proper evidence were presented and the death penalty were not invoked. The U.S. did not respond to Taliban overtures in this regard. Then, soon after, there was the real possibility of bin Laden’s early capture in the mountains of Tora Bora where he was being pursued with too few troops, who were summarily called off the hunt. (The U.S. could hardly have invaded Iraq if bin Laden had been caught).
The “information” that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were cahoots was got by torturing Ibn al-Sheik Al-Libi until he said so; like “weapons of mass destruction”, Al-Libi’s tortured testimony had no basis in truth.) A public trial of bin Laden at in the World Court would have resulted in wide-spread condemnation of terrorism, would have nipped the violent jihadist movement in the bud by preventing bombings and invasions of two countries. A public trail would have shown the world that the U.S. believes in the power of justice, not in violent retribution.
Instead of trial by law we have 14 years of war and torture, with no end in sight—if there had been an international trial at a moment the entire world was united against terrorism, what would our lives be like today?
Instead we have non-state and state-terrorism run amuck. We have Isil putting Guantanamo-like orange jump suits on its Western captives and beheading them. We have U.S. drone warfare hitting civilians as often as not. We have troops on the ground, again, in an Iraq our 2003 Occupation fractured and destroyed. We have troops still in a struggling Afghanistan.
We have militarized police at home killing unarmed black men and children, and plenty of gun violence. It is difficult not to conclude that the significant result of the U.S. torture program has been an explosion of lawless violence at home and abroad.
It is difficult, therefore, not to call for a public reckoning—the torture of supposed enemies and murder of those who have yet to be treated like full citizens are connected. It’s difficult, too, not to call attention to the violence fear of the “other” be they Muslim or black creates in those with power. The past weeks’ protests and Saturday’s large marches around the nation which represent a growing movement demanding justice here at home may be a start in redeeming the soul of a nation.
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