Thursday, May 12

Numb to the Pain

On this blog, I've spent a lot of time talking about torture of detainees by U.S. forces. I've raised the issue over and over again, and the reason is simply that if you truly believe in morality, if you believe in the U.S Constitution, if you truly believe in human rights then you must also believe that government must be restricted from violating those rights or else they simply don't exist. Liberty denied to some, is Liberty denied to all.

I fear that constantly repeating this message tends to blunt it's impact just as Margeret Krome writes for the Capitol Times:

Sometimes when I've been too critical of my children, I realize that, for their own emotional well-being, they tune me out. When I notice that glazed look, I jump to revise how and what I say. After all, some of my messages are essential to their safety and well-being. I need to make sure they can hear me.

As a nation, I wonder if we hear so much bad news, so many examples of having lost our way morally, ethically and culturally, that we numb ourselves to painful truths. An example of this is a new book, "Inside the Wire," by Erik Saar and Viveca Novak, about Army Sgt. Saar's experiences as a military intelligence officer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As I read Saar's account of abuses, counterproductive interrogation practices and knowing disregard for Geneva Conventions, I wondered why this nation of morally attuned patriots is not fighting mad. There was a time when even a whisper of such abuse conducted in our name evoked outrage. But after revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, have we normalized morally appalling behavior? Are we intentionally ignoring military horror stories because we can't listen anymore?

Saar's story is one of transformation: a conservative soldier from a family military tradition and deeply held religious faith who committed himself to fight terrorism. It's a personal tale of his hopes that his military service would help him heal from a painful divorce. And it's a description of his struggle to reconcile the treatment of detainees that he saw at Guantanamo Bay with his beliefs about America's ideals, and why he finally decided to uphold those ideals by talking about his experiences.

As a linguist and intelligence officer, Saar worked on various teams in Guantanamo Bay and saw different aspects of the camp. He quickly saw that there was something badly wrong with its military command structure, his first team's preparedness to deal with Muslim detainees, its utter lack of esprit de corps, and the camp's failure to correct its own dysfunctions.

As Saar translated, he heard countless detainees' complaints about not knowing charges against them, being unable to talk with lawyers or communicate with families, of physical and emotional abuses, which he also witnessed. Abuses became more severe and frequent over the months he was there, as personnel became frustrated by their failures to gain information. Intelligence agencies worked badly together, and military interrogations were routinely recognized by staff as pointless.

Perhaps the fact that these horrors are happening to foreigners makes it less offensive. The idea that an innocent American could be arrested and held in such conditions is surely ridiculous, yes? Yet, reports such of this one from the Washington Post continue to appear:

Saudi officials tortured an American student charged with conspiring to kill President Bush "at the direct behest" of the FBI, whose agents did nothing to stop the abuse, attorneys for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali said in court papers.

In motions filed late Monday, Abu Ali's attorneys said he was tortured while FBI agents were in Saudi Arabia to interview him in September 2003. They said the abuse came at the hands of the Interior Ministry's Mabahith branch, the Saudi equivalent of the FBI. When Abu Ali complained to an FBI agent, the attorneys said, the agent stormed out of the room.

"The FBI's interrogations would begin late at night and into the early mornings, after which they would turn Mr. Abu Ali over to the Saudi Mabahith, who would dutifully torture him and deprive him of sleep in preparation for the next day of interrogations," the lawyers wrote.

The lawyers said Abu Ali was beaten, whipped and subjected to "the most sadistic forms of psychological torture."

Defense attorneys have long argued that Abu Ali, 24, of Falls Church was tortured while in Saudi custody before being flown back to the United States to face terrorism charges in February. The government says Abu Ali confessed to the assassination plot against Bush and admitted discussing with members of al Qaeda his plans to conduct a Sept. 11-style terrorist attack in the United States.

Does it matter that this American has an Arab name? Does that make it seem more plausible that he might wish to kill the President and this his claims of torture are nothing more than an attempt to duck and dodge responsibility for his own misdeeds?

The problem is that we can't know. The deliberate inhumane treatment and "rendition" of terror suspects to countries which engage in torture - contrary to the President's recent claims that "we do not send people to countries that commit torture" - appears to be a common and regular practice by U.S. Officials. (According to the New York Times, a report has been published indicating that as many as 200 people have been sent to Egypt) With America making this a regular practice, it lends greater and greater credibility to claims by suspects that they have indeed been tortured which in turn calls into serious question the validity of any "confessions" that may have been aquired.

As a nation, we face no greater moral challenge than this. We were brutally attacked on our own soil. Over 3000 of our citizens were murdered. If we allow that event to scar us permenently, to rot away the rule of law, to make us as vicious and brutal as those we oppose - we can no longer claim to be their opposition - we instead have become their partners in terror. Perpetuating an ever escalating race for greater and greater international depravity. A slow, steady slide into Hell on Earth.

Isn't it great to be an American?

We are not powerless in this situation. The one true shining virtue of America is that we - the people - have a voice. We can take a individual stand, we can come together, make that stand collective and we can change things. We can indeed protect ourselves, improve our collective security and protect our individual liberty.

All we have to do is wake up, stand with one voice and shout "STOP - we will not let these things be done in our name. No more, and never again." Or we can roll our eyes like a child who'se heard one to many lectures, and go back out in the yard to play with our new SUV's with spinning rims, while text-messaging each other about Paris Hilton and the Micheal Jackson trial.
The choice is ours.


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