Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Gitmusings

Some more semi-random thoughts about Gitmo:

One of the chilling but (IMO) underexamined wrinkles of the latest Gitmo torture revelations has been the reaction, as compared to the reaction to Abu Ghraib. When the Abu Ghraib photos leaked, there was near-universal outrage at the depravity on display, which the White House successfully deflected away as the independent actions of a few "bad apples."

But as the Gitmo stories have come out, the lion's share of the outrage has been directed at those who have tried to call attention to the immorality of what is going on there (Newsweek, Amnesty International, Dick Durbin), rather than on the torturers themselves, or their highly-placed enablers. It could be the way the news has dribbled out unaccompanied by lurid photos, as opposed to Abu Ghraib's sudden slap to the face, but I fear that it also means that Abu Ghraib has desensitized the American people to torture and abuse. Sadly, I just do not sense the same kind of disgust and visceral horror that was floating around the zeitgeist in the wake of Abu Ghraib.

Another underemphasized aspect of Guantanamo is its retroactive debunking of the "bad apples" canard. It's a lot harder to blame Abu Ghraib on a few rogue guards when similar techniques are enshrined as standard practice at Gitmo. Unfortunately, I see no sign that this idea is getting any traction at all, and Abu Ghraib itself is becoming nothing more than a faded memory of something bad we did once, but which doesn't really matter now.

Veering wildly over to the torture apologists themselves, it looks like the Republican party line is that what's happening at Gitmo isn't really torture torture, not like Saddam's Iraq or Auschwitz or the gulags. I'm willing to concede that very narrow point, but that doesn't exactly let anyone off the hook. Consider:

o As outlined in the Anthony Lewis op-ed linked below, even degrading, inhumane treatment that falls short of the Gonzales/Bybee organ-failure/limb-amputation definition of torture is still forbidden by two UN conventions and our own military code.

o Is this really the face that we want America to present to the rest of the world? That of an arrogant, unaccountable torturer? What happened to America the shining moral beacon and noble champion of human rights? (Yes, I know it's largely a fiction, but at least we used to want to believe it, and I think many people worldwide really did... once)
Do we really want to settle for "a little bit better than Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union"? Our moral baseline should be the ideals of decency and fair play that America supposedly stands for, not the practices of brutal dictatorships.

o Does sending prisoners to other countries for the more hardcore forms of torture really absolve us of moral responsibility? Is outsourcing torture really enough to keep our own hands clean? I'll skip any populist lament for all the American torturers that this puts out of work...

o By embracing and defending even the entry-level torture and mistreatment at Gitmo, we are sending the message that this is acceptable treatment of prisoners. Are the torture apologists really okay with the idea of our own captured soldiers being subjected to such treatment? Themselves? Their kids?

o And speaking of kids, how do you explain this to them? Do you tell them it's okay to be mean to the prisoners because they're bad people? (And how do you know they're bad? Because someone said so?) Or brown people? What kind of values are these kids going to grow up with?

o For those of you claiming to be Christians, can you really, honestly, for one second picture Jesus looking down approvingly at what we're doing at Gitmo? I sure as hell can't.

o More peripheral to the central issue of Torture, but how do you square "invisible" prisoners and indefinite imprisonment without counsel or trial with the US Constitution, which does not distinguish between Americans and foreigners in its due-process provisions.

Right, then. I think I'm done. I suppose I should feel better for having gotten it out of my system, but if anything, I think I'm even more pissed off now.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Emphyrio here.

Pictures are key, aren't they? Even drawings would do. It was Thomas Nast who brought down Boss Tweed.

Maybe some of my comics artist friends could be enlisted to create images of what so far are abstractions in twelve-point type.

I can't wait for the day when digital cameras are as small as dimes, as small as Junior Mints.

Woe to the sexy celebrities, but it will be a more just world.

Thersites said...

Yeah, we'd need pictures.

I admit to actually being shocked by the apologists, trolls, pundits, officials, and everyone else pretending to be outraged at the language of those who are upset that the US is engaging in torture.

The degree of the moral bankruptcy is astounding.

Eli said...

Pictures would be great. But, on the other hand... we had pictures of Abu Ghraib, and where did that ultimately get us?

Eli said...

And yeah, Thers, that's kinda what brought me to a boil on this post, the idea that anyone could actually dismiss or *defend* what's happening down there.