“The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’ “
So said Charles Graner Jr., a former corrections officer and a military police officer at Abu Ghraib prison. Graner had plenty of fun: According to an internal Army report leaked to The New Yorker, abuses at Abu Ghraib included breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees, beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair, threatening male detainees with rape, sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and using dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees.
As at Guantanamo, where similar abuses are alleged, the majority of detainees were never charged with a crime. Much of the photographic evidence of abuse was never released – detainee Mustafa Jassim Mustafa described a female soldier taking pictures while Graner sodomized another detainee with a flashlight. Graner is now serving 10 years in prison, but under new Republican-supported legislation, detainees will not be allowed to challenge their imprisonment in court, and officers guilty of abuse at secret CIA prisons would never have to face justice.
The Bush Administration claims that to protect America, it needs to keep evidence secret, prevent detainees from challenging their detentions and immunize torturers from prosecution. Nonsense. Only 6 percent of Guantanamo detainees were picked up on the battlefield and only 8 percent were al-Qaida fighters. High-level military officials stated in 2004 that none of the 595 detainees were senior al-Qaida operatives or leaders. The administration is only protecting itself from the PR nightmare that would occur if citizens realized just how badly they’ve been lied to. The real security threat here is the threat to the job security of the party responsible for the torture of innocent people like Mahar Arar, a Canadian citizen the United States deported on faulty intelligence to Syria, where he was kept for 10 months in a 3-by-6-foot cell, beaten repeatedly with a metal cable and forced to sign a false confession before finally being freed. Apparently we fought for 40 years to defeat the Soviet Union so that we could become them today.
If there is one thing we should have learned since Sept. 11, it’s that civilization is fragile and must be protected against barbarism within and without. Ancient cultures allayed their fear of death by ritually murdering some of their own so God would spare the rest. Between Abraham and Christ, wars fought for God and country replaced human sacrifice. Of course, no victims of the Aztecs, Crusaders or mujahideen actually had to die – they were killed by people desperate to gain power in the face of mortal fear by killing someone else in their stead.
In this cold calculus of torment, the innocence or guilt of victims is beside the point. There are no Iraqi civilians and no innocent prisoners, only insurgents and terrorists, and by torturing and killing them, you glorify your cause. The abuses at Abu Ghraib and the CIA prisons are logical extensions of Holy War – you’re winning as long as more of them suffer and die than you. Why not admit it? As you watched the orange blooms rising in the Baghdad sky on television and remembered the fear and hatred you felt that morning in September, as mortar fire rained down around the prison and you thought of your dead friends while the naked Iraqi cowered in the corner at the teeth of your dog – why not admit it? In that moment, you were God. In that moment, death could not touch you because you held Him on the end of a leash and pointed Him at your enemy.
Conservatives who decry this as another attempt to smear America ought to look in the mirror. In arguing for torture, the Limbaughs and O’Reillys who enable Bush have done more to establish a moral equivalence between America and its enemies than 30 years of anti-American radical agitation. By supporting the continuation of secret CIA torture camps, they cement Graner as the face of America in the Middle East and thereby do more to support al-Qaida recruitment than any leftist intellectual fifth-columnist ever could. Military personnel from top Pentagon lawyers to Colin Powell insist that torture fails to yield valid intelligence, endangers U.S. troops captured abroad and erodes America’s moral authority in the war on terror. Osama bin Laden would be overjoyed; “the Crusaders” will have abandoned any claim to moral high ground should this psychologically diseased policy become law.
Of course, I’m not privy to the sort of classified experiences our intelligence operatives will get to have. Maybe the joy of making a grown man piss himself is worth the stain on our nation’s honor.
Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.