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Collective Denial Does Not Wipe Out Torture

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By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BARCELONA (IDN) - A couple of weeks after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 against the Trade World Centre in New York, the U.S. playwright, actor, and essayist Wallace Shawn published a memorable analysis of the U.S. collective reaction to the attacks. Shawn diagnosed the U.S. a condition of denial. According to Shawn, the U.S. “cannot face (its) real problem, so (it) den(ies) that it exists and create(s) instead a different problem (to) solve.”

Meanwhile, Shawn went on, “the real problem, denied and ignored, becomes more and more serious”. In the U.S. case, he pointed out, the real problem “is simply the way that millions and millions of people around the world feel about” Washington.

“Who are these people?” Shawn rhetorically asked. “They share the world with (the U.S.) – one single world, which works as a unified mechanism. These people are the ones for whom the mechanism's current way of working – call it the status quo – offers a life of anguish and servitude. They're well aware that this status quo, which for them is a prison, is for (the U.S.) (or for the privileged among the U.S. population), on the contrary, so close to a paradise that (the U.S.) will never allow their life to change. These millions of people are in many cases uneducated… and yet they still somehow know that (the U.S.) have played an enormous role in keeping this status quo in place. And so they know the U.S. as the enemy. They feel they have to fight the U.S. Some of them hate the U.S. And some will gladly die in order to hurt the U.S. – in order to stop it.”

Shawn knew what he was talking about. He, born in 1943, came of age in the1960s, at the height of the cold war, and could witness first-hand the consequences of U.S. interventionist policies around the world, in South East Asia (for those forgetful, Viet Nam), in the Middle East (for those forgetful, Iran in 1954), and in Latin America (for those forgetful, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, Nicaragua all the time...) Shawn was aware that these policies had during the four decades after the end of World War II rightfully led millions of people outside the U.S. to consider Washington their enemy.

Almost 15 years later, the condition of denial that Shawn diagnosed, the U.S. continues to pervade the actions and behaviour of politicians in Washington and in the Western capitals. This time, the denial refers to the torture methods, or, as they are euphemistically called in official jargon, enhanced interrogation techniques, applied by the CIA and other U.S. agencies in their so called war on terror.

The torture methods the U.S. applied became known thanks to the brave actions by now forgotten people and organisations such Bradley Edward Manning, Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and WikiLeaks, who had the courage to publish photos and documents that show in an undeniable way the treatment the U.S. military inflicted upon detainees, many of them innocents. And yet, U.S. allies keep repeating the sham lie that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” became known thanks to the democratic nature of U.S. society… As if Edward Snowden would be leading a normal life in a free community.

The torture, perpetrated in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and in secret prisons around Europe and other countries, has now been confirmed by the report of a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which concludes that the inhuman treatment was in addition to its cruelty and brutality simply useless.

As SSCI Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein has stated that the report "uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight ... [T]he creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes."

“Terrible mistakes” for more than half a century

The U.S. has been committing these “terrible mistakes” for more than half a century. In Guatemala, right wing military officers, all of them taught by U.S. experts in the infamous School of the Americas (SOA, now officially known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), have since the late 1950s abducted, tortured and assassinated thousands of opposition leaders, students, union members, and peasants, using methods such as the “capucha” – the tortured would tighten a plastic bag full with flour over the detainee’s head. Or the officer would pull the detainee’s nails with nippers. Or he (practically all torturers were male) would apply electroshocks to the detainee, particularly at her (many victims were female) or his sexual organs. The bodies of the victims would be cut in pieces, and thrown in the Pacific Ocean.

These practices were repeated in Argentina, also by military officers, who learnt these from U.S. experts. It is said that the Argentine military tortured even pregnant students, and in many cases abandoned them, bleeding, in rat-infested prisons.

Guatemala and Argentina were by no means exceptions in the U.S. behaviour in Latin America – Chile, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua . . . In 1996, the U.S. military ministry, the Pentagon, was forced to release SOA training manuals, which explicitly advocated torture, summary executions, extortion, blackmail and the targeting of civilian populations.

On September 21, 1996, the U.S. newspaper Washington Post reported that the manuals said that “counterintelligence agents could use fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum, according to a secret Pentagon summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material."

At the time, Democratic congress representative Joseph Kennedy, an advocate of shutting down the SOA, said the manuals "show what we have suspected all along, that taxpayers' money has been used for physical abuse. The School of the Americas, a Cold War relic, should be shut down."

It is important to recall these shameful events to rebuff the claims of Western journalists and political leaders, who now try to minimise the U.S. torture methods as exceptional mistakes, and justify them arguing that Washington overreacted under a state of shock after the attacks against New York.

Quite the opposite is true:  Such behaviour has been typical of U.S. policies all over the world since more than 50 years. Since the 1950s, the U.S. maintained alliances with political fanatics such as the Shah of Iran, Duon van Mihn and Nguyen Khánh in Viet Nam, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Anastazio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the Apartheid leaders in South Africa, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the thug band UCK in Kosovo… The U.S. government has never doubted to commit the most horrendous crimes when it comes down to pursuing what it considers its interests.

And yet, despite such overwhelming evidence, European leaders and media insist that the U.S. represents “values”, and that torture and other political crimes the U.S. government has committed since 2001 represent an exceptional “treason” to those values. These reactions are the more sanctimonious, for European governments have cooperated with the U.S. in committing these crimes.

Germany for instance: The government in Berlin refused in 2002 to intervene in favour of the German citizen of Turkish origin Murat Kurnaz, whom the U.S. kept since late 2001 detained in Guantanamo under the charges of terrorism. That Kurnaz was innocent bothered neither the U.S. nor Germany. The German government even refused an U.S. offer to release Kurnaz; this refusal prolonged Kurnaz’s illegal detention until 2006.

German officers also took part in questioning detainees in Guantanamo and in secret prisons in Syria (yes, in Syria – until a couple of years ago the Syrian regime was a Western ally in the so-called war on terror). In 2006, the German minister of the interior Wolfgang Schaeuble argued that intelligence information obtained by torturing detainees be used in Germany. “It would be irresponsible on our part to say that when we’re not sure that the rule of law was absolutely respected (during the interrogations), we would not use the information.”

Now, after the release of the U.S. senate report, the German government, of which Schaeuble is still a leading minister, describes itself “shocked”, as Chancellor Angela Merkel put it.

At the same time, however, Schaeuble throughout the 2010s feigned ignorance on the torture methods used by U.S. agencies. But media couldn’t: The German news weekly Der Spiegel in 2009 complained “The torture virus eventually infected the rest of the world, including Europe and … Germany. The double standard employed by German counterterrorism personnel when confronted with the torture practices of their U.S. allies becomes clear in a remark Ernst Uhrlau, the head of the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, made in a 2007 interview with SPIEGEL: ‘U.S. officials have (…) explained to us that the information they gained from various interrogations worldwide has been instrumental in preventing further attacks and uncovering terrorist structures. So we have benefited from all this in the sense of preventing attacks and understanding the structures of the network.’”

In December 2014, Der Spiegel devoted a whole issue to repeat the complaint that, by torturing and executing detainees, the U.S. had betrayed Western values.

*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and IDN Global Editor. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 16, 2014]

Top Picture: Murat Kurnaz | Credit: Schattenblick

Bottom Picture: Julio Godoy - Credit: ICIJ

The writer's other IDN articles:
http://www.indepthnews.info/index.php/search?searchword=Julio%20Godoy&ordering=newest&searchphrase=all

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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