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June 15, 2005

American "Nazi"?! American "Gulag"?

I'm trying to wrap my head around some comments made by a United States senator, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. I found the comments on the Opinion Journal's Best of the Web Today. They concern prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

Now, if you're willing to think critically about what the FBI agent reported, you might come to different conclusions than the senator in question. Let's go through bit by bit:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water.

So far we have a person whose movement is restricted and who, at that particular moment in time, does not have access to a glass of water or food. This is torture?

Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more.

Now we've added a loss of dignity.

On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night.

Now we're pushing the physical discomfort. Many people in the world live with these temperature conditions, especially the heat, day in and day out. It's not torture, it's the norm where they live. And the middle east is one such area where this is commonplace - and not just the heat there, but the cold also. For you and I, assuming you're reading from the United States, this may sound bad, considering our air conditioned and heated homes, but even many of us don't have air conditioning because we can't afford it or choose not to have it. It gets well over 100 degrees where I live, and I just got air conditioning 2 years ago! To a pansy-assed American, accustomed to comforts that much (most?) of the rest of the world considers luxurious, what he's describing here doesn't seem all that bad. It should seem hardly an affront at all to someone who lives in a less economically lush environment.

Next: pulling his hair out through the night? Why? The senator is counting on your assumptions. Perhaps he's terrifically nervous because he's familiar with regimes which actually do use torture, such as Saddam's old regime, and the propaganda he's been fed all of his life about America has left him thinking that he's going to have his hands chopped off any day now. Who knows?

On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

Okay, now they've hit on something: forcing them to listen to rap "music" (misnomer)?! Granted, that is absolutely despicable and should be stopped right away. There is just no excuse for this kind of inhumane treatment to occur anywhere in the modern world. I'm ashamed to be an American if this is what they're doing. And it's not the first I've heard of this terrible injustice:

That's it. Shut down Guantanamo. Torturing detainees with Christina Aguilera music? What a sick, twisted society we've become. We truly are no better than the "terrorists" we're fighting.
--Evan Coyne Maloney

But humor aside for a second. Take note of what it is that the anti-Bush crowd are selling as torture. There's no severing of limbs, nobody is being put on a rack and having their spines stretched, no one is forced to watch as their compatriots are chopped up with chainsaws. What is happening is that people are being treated to cold and warm temperatures for extended periods of time, they're being tied up - no, not even tied up, since that would cause blood flow problems - but handcuffed and foot cuffed up so that their mobility is restricted. They're left, essentially, lying down; no energy expended, no chain-gang. The point is not to hurt them, but to make them uncomfortable. "Torture"? You've got to be kidding.

Now as for that senator: What image of America is he selling to the rest of the world when he makes these kinds of accusations? Is it a good image? Is it pro-American? Does it say, "Wow, America is a wonderful country!"? I don't think so.

But the reality is, if you look at critically at what he actually used to shed a negative light on America, you'll find that it sheds a very good light on America. "These benign techniques," it says, "are the extent to which Americans are willing to create discomfort in their worst and most destructive enemies.

I feel like waving a flag today.

Proud to be an American

Update: I just saw this on today's Day by Day cartoon:

Torture

Timing is everything.

Update II: Now this is worth linking. Give it a read.

Update III: Another from Day by Day Cartoon

Durbin Representative of Terrorists Posted by Jeff at June 15, 2005 10:37 PM

Comments

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff....it's so easy to dismiss things by underplaying their significance.

The whole sorry saga of detainees held without charge or trial is a blot on the honour of the United States of America.

It is a stain on the integrity of a nation that ONCE stood for freedom, but now acts akin to a fascist state.

It is a disgrace that the world will never, ever forget; and probably will never forgive.

Amen.

:-)

Posted by: kenny at June 16, 2005 05:51 AM


You won't catch me saying that everything is perfect with this situation. If they were criminals in the U.S., they'd have clearly delineated rights. If they were prisoners of war, they'd similarly have clearly delineated rights (the Geneva conventions). They are neither. We're in unfamiliar territory.

It is that discomfort over their legal status which gives us cause to skip a breath when we think of those prisoners. It's what leads some people to want to push them into one or the other aforementioned categories, regardless of the misfit.

But this unfamiliar territory is bringing about the very debates which are needed not only to create a new status within which to place such prisoners, but also to give legitimacy to that status. The fact that such a clearly defined legal status didn't just spring up out of the ground and into our hands is not something for us, or anyone, to apologize for. These things take time and must be debated, even agonized over.

As for how the United States is viewed by "the world": No matter how many people (even a "world" of them) view 2+2 as equaling 5, it never will. When this happens, don't blame the equation, blame world ignorance.

Posted by: Jeff at June 16, 2005 06:33 AM


No. Blame the actions of an aggressive and acquisitive nation greedy for oil for the world's perception of the USA. What is dressed-up as protecting freedom is not too disimilar to Germany's occupation of Rumania and Hungary in the C20th.

Posted by: kenny at June 16, 2005 07:30 AM


That's a cynical pronouncement.

History will not support that assertion.

Posted by: Jeff at June 16, 2005 07:36 AM


Cynical? I don't think so. America only moves to protect the "freedom" of those countries which might further the ends of this administration e.g. the quest to secure oil supplies. Similarly, the US supports friendly administrations even if they are oppressive e.g. Uzbekistan. Hitler did exactly the same thing.

Posted by: kenny at June 16, 2005 07:43 AM


Did Hitler breathe in and out, too?

Posted by: Jeff at June 16, 2005 11:47 PM


"So, until Guantanamo, America was 'viewed as a leader in human rights'? Not in 2004, when Abu Ghraib was the atrocity du jour. Not in 2003, when every humanitarian organization on the planet was predicting the deaths of millions of Iraqis from cholera, dysentery and other diseases caused by America's 'war for oil.' Not in 2002, when the 'human rights' lobby filled the streets of Vancouver and London and Rome and Sydney to protest the Bushitler's plans to end the benign reign of good King Saddam. Not the weekend before 9/11 when the human rights grandees of the U.N. 'anti-racism' conference met in South Africa to demand America pay reparations for the Rwandan genocide and to cheer Robert Mugabe to the rafters for calling on Britain and America to 'apologize unreservedly for their crimes against humanity.' If you close Gitmo tomorrow, the world's anti-Americans will look around and within 48 hours alight on something else for Gulag of the Week."
--Mark Steyn

Posted by: Jeff at June 20, 2005 12:20 AM


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