How Could Americans Let This Happen?

One word: revenge. We are a nation that collectively decided that revenge in the aftermath of September 11th was acceptable. And these two articles describe its logical conclusion. We should conclude that revenge is evil and can only yield further deep, dark evil.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Anything Goes: “Taxi to the Dark Side”: How Did America Become a Country That Tortures?
By Cynthia Fuchs

They’re a very frail people and I was surprised it had taken that long for one of ‘em to die in our custody. —Pfc. Damien Corsetti, Military Intelligence, Bagram

If the FBI had felt that there was a case to answer for, they wouldn’t have taken me into Bagram where I was held, heard the sounds of a woman screaming next door, had me hogtied and threatened to send me to Egypt in order to get me to sign this. —Moazzam Begg, Now 2006 July 28

25/02/08 ” PopMatters” — — In December 2002, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar was picked up and delivered to the Bagram Air Force Base prison. Five days later, he was dead. Sgt. Thomas Curtis, one of the Military Police at Bagram, remembers, “There was definitely a sense of concern because he was the second one. You wonder, was it something we did?”

As detailed in Alex Gibney’s devastating documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, Dilawar’s demise was officially termed a homicide, like the first detainee to die at Bagram, Habibullah. Captured by a warlord and handed over to the U.S. just days before Dilawar, Habibullah as deemed “an important prisoner,” hooded, shackled, and isolated, periodically beaten for “noncompliance.” Autopsies showed that Dilawar and Habibullah suffered similar abuses, including deep bruises all over their bodies; according to the Army coroner, Dilawar suffered “massive tissue damage to his legs… his legs had been pulpified.” And yet, despite initial concerns among the guards and interrogators at Bagram over an investigation, instead, the officer in charge of interrogation at the prison, Captain Carolyn Wood, was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and, following the Iraq invasion in 2003, she and her unit were sent to Abu Ghraib.

Methodically, relentlessly, Gibney’s Oscar-nominated film assembles stories, evidence, and testimony from witnesses and experts (its deliberate structure recalls that of Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight, both films suggesting that, if the Bush Administration had not already put in place legal protections, more than one member might be subject to criminal charges). The many decisions and oversights that produced the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would be used at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and other sites have several points of departure, each chilling in its own way. Not least among these is the pronouncement by Dick Cheney that motivates Taxi‘s title, made during an appearance on Meet the Press during the week after 9/11. Describing imminent changes in interrogation policies, the vice president asserted,

We have to work sort of the dark side, if you will, spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. It’ll be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

This working of the “dark side” would be both notorious and secret, planned and haphazard, illegal and, in some instances, calculated to toe a seeming legal line. Above all, the film argues, the work was instigated and often overseen by military officers and administration officials, who created a “fog of ambiguity, coupled with great pressure to bring results,” such that young, untrained soldiers were following orders that were not spelled out. Chief among these sources of confusion is the January 2002 torture memo” written by John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, advising the suspension of the Geneva Conventions in cases deemed appropriate by the president. Taxi describes the memo as giving “legal cover for the CIA and Special Forces to embark on a secret program of previously forbidden interrogation techniques,” including the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. This even as military lawyers disputed such methods, especially as the use of such “extreme acts” left soldiers vulnerable to criminal charges—though, as it has turned out, those who directed them have not been subject to prosecutions.

Read the rest here.

Confessions of a Gitmo Guard: A Nightmare World of Torture and Prison Guard Suicides
By Debbie Nathan

26/02/08 “Counterpunch” — – A psychiatrist who has treated former military personnel at Guantánamo prison camp is telling a story of prisoner torture and guard suicide there, recounted to him by a National Guardsman who worked at Guantánamo just after it opened.

Dr. John R. Smith, 75, is a Oklahoma City psychiatrist who has done worked at military posts during the past few years. He is also a consultant for the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services, and is affiliated with the Veteran’s Affairs Administration Hospital in Oklahoma City. The court-appointed psychiatric examination of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, was conducted by Smith. A few years ago, he became a contract physician, treating active duty members of the US military in need of psychotherapy.

Smith spoke on February 22, 2008, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, held in Washington DC. His presentation dealt with the psychological impact on guards of working at Guantánamo . He focused on a chilling case history, of a patient he called “Mr. H.”
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Smith described Mr. H as a blue-collar Latino in his 40s who had done routine service in the National Guard for years before being called up to Kuwait. Then, shortly after 9/11, he was diverted from Kuwait to Guantánamo . The detention camp had just opened. Mr. H was deployed there to work as a guard.

Untrained for the job, Mr. H was taken aback by the detainees. They threw feces and urine on him, said Smith, and tried to get him to sneak letters out, telling him that if he didn’t, “they would see to it that his family suffered the consequences.” The prisoners also mocked Mr. H, that his being in the military made him “a traitor” to Latinos and other minorities. Mr. H was confused and terrified.

Meanwhile, according to Smith, “this good Catholic man with a family who had pretty much always followed the rules” was called on to participate in torture. One of his jobs was “to take detainees to certain places and see that they were handcuffed in difficult positions, usually naked, in anticipation of interrogation.” Mr. H often watched the questioning. He saw prisoners pushed until they fell down, then cut. They responded to the torture with “defecation, vomiting, urinating,” and “psychotic reactions: bizarre screaming and crying.”

Smith noted that Mr. H said he was “required to handcuff and push to the ground detainees who were naked.” The prisoners were also made to “remain on sharp stones on their knees.” Detainees, Mr. H told Smith, would try to avoid interrogation by rubbing their knees until they bled in order be taken to the prison hospital.

According to Smith, Mr. H’s comment about these events “was poignant and simple: ‘It was wrong what we did.'” While still at Guantánamo , he responded to being a participant in torture “with guilt, crying and tears. But of course it was forbidden to talk with anyone about what he was experiencing.” He “became more and more depressed.” Apparently, so did other military personnel. Smith said Mr. H told him that in the first month he was at Guantánamo , two guards committed suicide.

Smith said that by the time he saw Mr. H, he “had become very ill. He was suicidal, terribly depressed, anxious,” and “riddled with insomnia and horrible dreams and flashbacks.” He had already seen two military therapists and not improved. But those therapists “were active duty and he didn’t dare tell them” what had happened at Guantánamo . Smith was not active duty, and after two or three sessions Mr. H opened up. With medication and psychotherapy, he became less suicidal but was still too sick to do any more military service.

Three years later after treating Mr. H, Smith got three new patients who were guards at Guantánamo on later tours. They said conditions were much improved –“they loved it at Guantánamo and went swimming in the Caribbean.” Still, one guard was having problems directly related to his work there. He “described having to cut down a detainee” who tried to hang himself after chewing through an artery in his own arm. There was blood everywhere. When the guard left Guantánamo , he was suffering from “anxiety attacks, panic attacks.”

Smith said his presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting was the first time he’d ever spoken publicly about his Guantánamo patients. He decided to talk, he said, because he is concerned that veterans are generally ineligible for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) disability benefits if the condition is not caused by combat. He considers the guards of Guantánamo “an overlooked group of victims.” But in making that case, Smith stepped into a unique role. Heretofore, almost all accounts of torture at Guantánamo have come from non-governmental human rights groups or detainees and their defense lawyers. The FBI accounts in 2004 were contradictory. Smith, a prestigious physician, relayed accounts from inside the military.

Debbie Nathan is a New York City-based journalist who writes frequently for CounterPunch. She can be reached at naess2@gmail.com.

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