You have a liberation army marching through Iraq, say, or Haiti, or Panama, or one of those places where the humanitarians in Washington, having realized the people are suffering too much under a dictator’s boot, sent in the troops, U.S. or coalition if they could gin up a coalition, and the conquering and victorious army is heading rapidly toward the capital when damned if—it happens every time—instead of entering the capital and taking out or at least capturing the evil dictator, and this, by the way, after killing hundreds, maybe thousands of soldiers and collaterals along the way, poor saps who were in the dictator’s army to avoid starvation probably, and civilian saps who couldn’t get out of the way or didn’t want to leave their houses and possessions unattended while an invading army came through—and after losing a few of our own poor saps who joined in order to get out of the barrio or the ghetto—poor saps all—the unstoppable troops stop somewhere outside the city and the dictator escapes to a neighboring country and later resides in Monte Carlo or Johannesburg or Miami.
Is there an understanding among leaders everywhere to go only so far and then stop, a mutual aid society, mutual assistance pact, a kind of Big Shot Treaty Organization that says it’s okay to kill and maim as many as you like below the rank of senator or brigadier general, say, but heads of state—kings, presidents, emperors, colonels—are granted professional courtesy? Immunity for the bosses.
(Though the current crop seems to be reneging. They kept Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic for show trials and execution, and now they’re talking about impeaching Pervez Musharraf. Well, you do what you gotta do. If the SOBs won’t leave when it’s time to leave, they deserve what they get.)
Now, that’s just a joke. There is no such agreement. But there is something else strange going on. We all know there’s a consensus among leaders and the media to not talk about certain things: labor movements, anti-war and anti-nuclear power demonstrations, the privatization of natural resources and local utilities, and resistance thereunto. Bosses everywhere are for privatization and against popular movements, and media everywhere either belong to the bosses or operate at their sufferance, so it’s not surprising they don’t cover these subjects. Media don’t cover what the bosses want kept quiet. This is so well known that to learn what the ruling class fears and suppresses, you only have to learn what isn’t broadcast.
Would you have guessed that the media don’t talk about torture?
Now, you wouldn’t be surprised if a nation’s media didn’t talk about torture by its own people or its allies, but even when it’s done by their so-called enemies? Even when broadcasting the facts would make good propaganda?
Now, this, like anything else, isn’t always and true. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was published. But did you notice that he was also subtly discredited in the Western press? You would expect the Soviets to run him down, but didn’t the U.S. media basically make him out to be an intransigent moralist, a weirdo fundamentalist Christian fanatic? (How could you not be an intransigent moralist, knowing what he knew?) And there was some coverage of Abu Ghraib, and now and then a bit of tut-tutting about My Lai, and from time to time some finger-wagging about Fallujah or Guantanamo.
And something about waterboarding. What was that all about, for Christ’s sake? Isn’t it a cross between surfing and skateboarding? Look, I’m sure being forced to skateboard in the hot sun ain’t exactly your idea of a good time. But torture? Jon Stewart, I think it was, whoever it was, speaking to Americans, made a good point when he said something like: Abu Ghraib doesn’t matter—what matters is that we’re not the kind of people who torture other people. And I’m proud, by the way, to be an American who doesn’t torture other people.
Apart from that, may I point out the unusual recent post by the Association of Iranian Political Prisoners called “Blindfolded Witnesses.” Such a sober description and frank discussion of torture are seldom produced and rarely available to a mass audience. Its makers merely report what happened, when, who did it, what it felt like; and their plain candor and lack of rhetoric is heart-breaking.
There were some other posts in 2006 that describe torture in Iran in 1986 and 1987. According to the author, these articles were written soon afterwards and were offered at the time to major magazines in the West, and they were read by major academic figures in the U.S., but no one was interested in publishing this fresh and significant news.
Now, here’s a curious thing, and remember that U.S. foreign policy ten years ago was as virulently anti-Iran as it is now. Wouldn’t you think that articles about torture and execution in Iranian prisons would have made good propaganda? Why weren’t they picked up? It wasn’t for lack of the right people seeing them. Was it that the author was unknown? Hell, articles by imaginary authors containing fabricated information are published all the time, especially before, during, and after wars. What could it have been but the subject matter?
Okay, so torture is one of those topics that aren’t covered. Why? That is today’s question.
Is it because they all do it? All the bosses use torture? And they know they’re sinners and don’t want to cast the first stone? They actually are the Christians they say they are? (We’re talking about the U.S. leaders, now.) They have compassion for their sinful enemies? Or could it be that they don’t want to accuse others lest they be accused themselves? They don’t want to ignite a spotlight that might be swung round to shine upon themselves?
Do the bosses keep this quiet so they don’t demoralize their own people? Would their people feel bad if they knew their neighbors and cousins and sons and daughters were torturing somebody else’s neighbors and cousins and sons and daughters? Wouldn’t their people be upset? Are the bosses keeping up morale at home by keeping the pictures pretty and Disneyfied?
The leaders themselves don’t apply the pliers, right? Don’t they convey with winks and nods and memoranda that it should be done? Does anyone resist orders from the boss? Can they? If they’re in the army, what’s the choice? Do torturers do it against their better judgment? Do they have judgment, these twenty-year-old uneducated kids from trailer parks? If they do, how easily is it overwhelmed by direct command and peer pressure?
Or do torturers do it willingly? Are they ordinary people or does a certain vicious personality gravitate toward this kind of work? How fast can an army sort itself into such specialists? Do powerless people enjoy asserting themselves, exercising control, being boss for a day? Do they enjoy hurting other people? Do kids like pulling wings off flies? Do people take their lead from their leaders? If the guy in charge condones cruelty, does everyone become more cruel? Is cruelty so easy to invoke that it only takes a couple years of a leader’s term of office?
Is torture always approved by the guy in charge? Would anybody below the guy in charge approve torture on his own? Would you yourself give someone the order to torture? Would you torture if you were given the order?
Are the bosses ashamed of what they do? Why would they be ashamed of torture, when they’re not ashamed of everything else they do in pursuit of riches and power?
And what do you do with the torturers when the regime changes?
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