July 2, 2010
Too little has been written about the cowardice of CIA and Pentagon
torturers and even less about the stoic courage of their victims.
Irrespective of what they might have done, there can be no question that
those suffering illegal and criminal tortures are, in fact, more
courageous than their tormentors. After all, how much courage does it
take to pummel a man tied to a chair or chained to a wall? CIA
interrogators don’t have even the "sporting" attitude of the schoolyard
bully who attacks a weaker child. That might be called a "fair fight" as
the weaker could put up a defense. But those five-man teams that
torture the defenseless, by definition, have got to be the most cowardly
thugs on the planet. Somehow, this perspective has eluded the "24"
fiction writers at Fox television network who extol U.S. torturer Jack
Bauer the way Goebbels once extolled the SS. It has also eluded
President Barack Obama, a former employee of a CIA-front organization,
who lavishly praised the CIA in a speech at its Langley, Va.,
headquarters last year.
According to one reliable published report, more than 100 prisoners have
died in U.S. custody since President Bush launched his "War on Terror,"
yet this figure may be a pale shadow of the ugly reality, for there are
repeated tales of prisoners dragged from their cells in the dead of
night and "disappeared"—men whose murders may not appear in any
Pentagon or CIA box score. The actual figure could be in the many
hundreds or thousands. Bear in mind, too, that U.S. officials running
the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for the crimes
committed by any and all of their hired local hit men as well as for the
horrendous conditions in the detention camps.
Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a civilian suspect arrested in
Afghanistan by U.S. or U.K. soldiers’ who is innocent of any
wrongdoing, as the vast majority of them have been said to be by
impartial observers. Without being allowed to hire a lawyer or to go
before a judge, you are imprisoned for months or years and tortured.
Wouldn’t being subjected to these criminal acts against the law of
nations invest you with a sense of righteousness as well as defiance? As
your martyrdom unfolds before your eyes and the frustration of your
torturers increases as they try to extract information from you that you
do not possess, wouldn’t each thorn unjustly impressed into your brow
confer upon you a sense of nobility? Conversely, wouldn’t each cowardly
slap by your torturers further demean them? Who is the nobler: the
torturer shouting "god damn you!" or the victim crying out "god help me"
or perhaps, even as Jesus once uttered, "father, forgive them"? How
different is the CIA practice of banging prisoners’ heads into a wall
from the acts of the SS men sixty years ago who killed Jewish boys by
slamming their heads into walls? It is said the Muslim victims today
"only" get concussions, sort of like NFL quarterbacks, but what the CIA
agents, like the Gestapo before them, share in common in every case, is
cowardice—the powerful thrashing the defenseless.
This cowardice is not confined merely to those who torture. It pervades
the White House and Congressional leadership that makes wars against
smaller countries that cannot retaliate in kind. Cowardice was also the
hallmark of the Office of Legal Counsel hacks who authorized punishments
the usually reticent Red Cross felt obliged to describe as "tantamount
to torture" that turned the civilized world against America as surely as
the evidence of the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust turned the
civilized world against the Japanese and Germans during World War Two.
Their cowardice has also spawned in our midst a generation of torturers
who inflict ghastly punishments on human beings at no risk to themselves
as the Obama regime, under the guise of "looking ahead," will not obey
its constitutional obligation to enforce America’s statutes against
torture. This is not merely political cowardice. It is complicity in a
nauseating scenario that degrades America before the world and shows us
up for the cowards we are.
It might be recalled that the U.S. and U.K. together engaged in terror
bombing during World War Two that massacred defenseless civilians; that
these two allies jointly built the atomic bombs that incinerated
Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and that the U.S. covered Viet Nam with Agent
Orange and Iraq with irradiated ammunition that go on claiming innocent
civilian lives to this day. Now the U.S. has unleashed the drone
pilotless warplane that is indiscriminately killing civilians as well as
"suspects," the latest example of national terrorism and cowardice.
Tragically, America has become a nation of cowards, from the political
weasels in Congress who vote up the $700 billion Pentagon budgets for
war to the man in the White House who will not enforce the law to the
gutless hirelings in the CIA and the Pentagon who perform the tortures
ordered from the top. This July 4th, the American national holiday, the
national anthem will resound across the nation. Its final stanza asks
the question of whether the flag still flies over "the home of the
brave?" How I wish I could say that it did!
Sherwood Ross is an American journalist who has reported for the
Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and wire services. He has
also been active in the civil rights movement. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org