Wrong No Matter How You Slice It

January 21, 2010

You owe it to yourself to pick up a Harper’s and read Scott Horton’s piece, The Guantanamo “Suicides.” If you can’t get a hard copy of it, here’s a convenient link to the article.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has something to say about this, and Andrew Sullivan’s blog has been exploding in outrage for this entire week.

What’s the take-away? American soldiers (apparently) tortured three men to death and then covered it up to make it look like a suicide while these men were under our custody in a US military prison.

As Lithwick asks, “Why aren’t we talking about this?”

I think it is because we, as a country, have become totally utilitarian in our thinking about morality. Even people who say they’re against torture aren’t coming out and making statements about how unacceptable this is. Why? Does the military in our country have this much power that an investigative journalist’s story can’t bring about real change? Thirty years ago a revelation like this would have meant a complete overhaul of the way the US treats its prisoners and public accounting for the atrocity.

Scratch that, thirty years ago the United States wouldn’t have done something like this.

We’re so caught up in keeping our place at the front of the world queue that anything is acceptable now, so long as it “protects America’s interests.” But to think that torturing people under our custody is in the American interest is an impoverished moral framework. It doesn’t matter that “the terrorists” might do the same to Americans. We’re supposed to be about rule of law, laws which said that we. don’t. torture. To think of novel legal definitions that put prisoners outside the scope of our laws is tantamount to breaking them in the first place.

Two of the men who were killed/killed themselves were set to be released. Because they had done nothing wrong. Instead of going home when the US released them the men did this,

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

Sound likely?

The United States elected the people who enacted the policies that enabled these things to happen. Lots of them are still sitting in Congress or are involved in lobbying or are even part of the President’s administration. This makes every. single. American. culpable.

We elected them. We caused this. We screwed up. We owe the world an apology.


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