Friday, October 05, 2007

Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

By MARC MCDONALD

George W. Bush raised a lot of eyebrows when he emphatically stated that the U.S. does not engage in torture. It was an ironic comment, especially in view of the White House's fierce lobbying in 2005 against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.


In fact, torture has been well documented at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities. Torture techniques range from the practice of "water boarding" (which simulates the effect of drowning) to vicious beatings. Other torture techniques include the pressing of lit cigarettes against detainees' flesh. Prisoners were also reportedly forced to walk on broken glass and barbed wire.

Although the Bush White House has embraced torture, it's important to note that torture is nothing new in American history.

For example, torture was widely employed by the Reagan-backed Central American death squads, which massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s. One secret CIA manual, from 1983, offered advice in various torture techniques.

If Bush really believes the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he really ought to bone up on his history. Bush wouldn't have to venture far from his Crawford ranch to find ample evidence---after all, nearby Waco knows a thing or two about torture.

For example, in 1916, a mentally retarded African-American youth, Jesse Washington, was arrested on the flimsiest of evidence in the murder of a Waco-area woman. After a short sham trial, the 17-year-old youth was dragged out of a courtroom by the trial spectators. He was slashed repeatedly with knives, castrated, and had his fingers and toes cut off. Then, before a crowd of 15,000 in downtown Waco, he was burned alive at the stake. City officials did nothing to stop the lynching, which was observed by the mayor and chief of police.

But I suppose it's unfair to single out Waco for this atrocity. In fact, Washington's torture-murder was only one of tens of thousands of lynchings that occurred during what historians have referred to as the era of "spectacle lynchings" from the 1880s to the 1920s. In many cases, the victims were tortured for hours, before they were soaked with kerosene and set on fire by cheering mobs. Like the Washington murder, many of the lynchings occurred in broad daylight, in crowded downtown areas, while city officials looked on, or even participated.

This ugly chapter of widespread torture has been largely forgotten by Americans today. Taking a cue from Stalinist Russia, the U.S. has carefully airbrushed away its atrocities when presenting the official, sanitized version of American history.

Some people might argue that, although thousands of lynchings did occur, they all happened a long time ago. They might wish to tell this to the family of James Byrd, Jr. In 1998, Byrd was chained to a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas.

In the aftermath of the Jasper lynching, a grass-roots effort in Texas urged the state to pass a hate crimes act to help prevent future atrocities. However, the bill failed to pass in the Texas Legislature after then-Governor George W. Bush refused to support the bill.

When Bush claims that the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he's simply carrying on a rich tradition of denial and suppression of the truth that is as American as apple pie.

12 comments:

Ron Southern said...

I dislike Bush and am not in favor of torture, but as you said, America has always denied torture and brutality no matter how much of it there has been. Frankly, I've never understood why anyone, even America, would go to War and act like they're not going to dismember, main and kill women and children along with the men. Once we've gone to war, there is only a Pretense of honor and civility left, that's all. No doubt that Bush wouldn't torture; he also has someone else who'll kill the chicken or beef he's having for supper tonight.

Manifesto Joe said...

If one doesn't mind some disingenuity, I think many would argue that the U.S. doesn't have a long history of the "highest" authorities flat-out directing, or overtly ordering torture. But tolerating and condoning it, having surrogates do it covertly, is another thing, as you point out repeatedly.

For example, neither Woodrow Wilson nor the Texas governor (I don't remember who it was at the time) told anyone to torture and lynch that guy in Waco in 1916. So they, too, could have contended that the U.S. doesn't torture. Problem is, they didn't do anything to try to bring the murderers to justice afterward; the incident was largely ignored. And of course this has happened many times in our history.

BTW, my grandfather was in Waco the day the mob did that lynching. To say he was shocked was an understatement, but he felt that as just one man he was powerless. But I think the incident haunted him until he was very old.

cwilcox said...

But not "Our America" Marc. Our America being the one we envision, the one that we hold high as the
America we believe it should be. This 08 election will be huge to begin making this the America we believe it can be.

Anonymous said...

Delighted to see truth written down. Bush of course will deny the truth, he is a professional liar and is as authoritarian as any dictator - only more insidious. Indeed, his place as President of the US itself is questionable.... the man has no integrity and is constantly reconstructing history, even in his own philistine way.

Marc McDonald said...

By the way, there is a very good book out on the 1916 Waco lynching. It is: "The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington And the Rise of the NAACP" by Patricia Bernstein.
The best overall book on lynching in America is: "At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America," by Philip Dray. A new edition of that book was released in paperback in 2003.

Anonymous said...

Abu Graihb was not an official or organised program of torture. It was a group of soldiers acting of their own volition. When they were caught, they were punished. It's completely dishonest to pretend that these soldiers were acting under orders. The beatings and broken glass and what-have-you were illegal and not sanctioned by officials or the administration.

There is no torture going on at Guantanamo. What the inspectors have (dishonestly) done is to expand the definition of torture. Suddenly, things like routine use of force by guards to compel compliance (normal in a coercive situation like a prison), small cells, solitary confinement and no light switches in cells have come under the definition of "torture", when in fact they are not. When UN and other inspectors come out of Guantanamo proclaiming their shock and disgust at the so-called torture going on, they're never pressed on what exactly they mean by the word. And liberals seize on the the unspecified allegations. The accusation itself, rather than the substance of it, is enough for them.

Water boarding is not torture. It is a psychological technique. It does not make use of physical pain to extract information. It is a distasteful technique, I agree, but it is not torture.

Finally, now that released detainees have caught onto the worldwide outrage against Gitmo, it has become standard for them to claim torture as soon as they are released. Despite not being able to produce compelling proof, they are automatically believed. A significant number of those released have been apprehended again - fighting US forces! And we're supposed to believe these people?

The poor dears at Gitmo have a selection of, I believe, 113 halal dishes on the prison menu. They have access to Korans and lawyers too. What horrible violations of their human rights they must be undergoing on a daily basis!

The Congressional bill would have outlawed pretty well anything beyond asking questions of detainees. Of course the White House opposed it.

B.T.

PS - James Byrd again? Spare a thought for the 85% of interracial crime victims who are white. Byrd is among the 15% who are black or Hispanic. Your concern is incorrectly prioritised, to say the least. More whites have died at the hands of blacks in the last 40 years than the number of blacks who were lynched after 1865.

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>Abu Graihb was not an official
>>or organised program of torture.
>>It was a group of soldiers
>>acting of their own volition.

OK, thank you for the Rush Limbaugh version of this story. As for those of us living in the real world, I'd like to remind people that the Abu Ghraib prison's former U.S. commander, (Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski), said that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

But what the fuck does Karpinski know? She was only the commander of Abu Ghraib.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. However, I think you may have wandered into this blog by mistake. If you want a blog that spends all of its time sucking Bush's ass and spewing out NeoCon lies, I suggest you hang out at Little Green Footballs or Flopping Aces, or one of the other NeoNazi nutcase blogs.

Oh, and if you really think the Iraq War is a noble cause, then why the fuck don't you enlist and go fight in Iraq (instead of running away from combat like your heroes Bush, Cheney and Rush), you chickenhawk coward?

cwilcox said...

lmao! How do you really feel Marc? "why the fuck don't you enlist and go fight in Iraq (instead of running away from combat like your heroes Bush, Cheney and Rush), you chickenhawk coward?" Yup, that about sums it up!

Anonymous said...

Why do you want our fighting forces to fail in their mission? Why do you spew the rhetoric of our enemies? Do you really hate your county so much? I would like to hear your thoughts about the good in America for a change. Are you void of a sense of nationalism?

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>Why do you want our fighting
>>forces to fail in their mission?

I think it could be argued that the mission failed our soldiers, not the other way around.
Our mission was to rid Iraq of WMDs, (no matter how the NeoCons try to spin and distort this fundamental fact).
There were no WMDs. The Iraq War is based on lies.
You can retroactively make up all kinds of excuses why we still needed to fight the Iraq War. But the fact is, most Americans feel betrayed by Bush. And you NeoCon chickenhawks are dwindling in numbers. You don't speak for most Americans, who simply want this nightmare in Iraq to end now and want our troops brought home.

Anonymous said...

I don't give a rat's ass if the U.S. engages in torture or not. If information can be extracted from someone that can save just one American life, I say put a drill to the bastards kneecap if necessary.

I think the concept of "hate crimes" is ridiculous. If I kill someone because I hate them, what difference does it make what color they are?

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>I don't give a rat's ass if the
>>U.S. engages in torture or not.
>>If information can be extracted
>>from someone that can save just
>>one American life, I say put a
>>drill to the bastards kneecap if
>>necessary.

Hold on there! Carefully put down your bottle of OxyContin and step away, very very slowly, from the bottle.