The U. S. abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq hit the news this week. Unfortunately, it was likely not an isolated incident. We know, for example that U. S. officials have or are investigating 35 other reports of prisoner abuse, including 25 deaths.
Abandoning the use of hoods, which the military has now instituted, is an extremely positive step. A hooded prisoner somehow seems less than human. The hood creates a feeling that the captive deserves abuse. (The fact that the guards don't have to see the prisoner's faces--or look in their eyes--probably has a greater psychological effect on the captors than on the captives.)
Many suspects have been held for over 2 years. Some have not been allowed to give testimony in trials, leading to al qaeda suspects having to be released by the courts. The reason given for not allowing the prisoners to be deposed or interviewed (even remotely)? It would interfere with the process of interrogating them. After 2 years? This is so unsavory (as I wrote last month) that even the most gullible American must find this--at least partly--suspicious.
As I asked in January, is this what Jesus would do to his enemies? Does our President look at his WWJD bracelet and think, right-on Ashcroft! right-on Rummy! Let's never let our enemies face charges or have their day in court. Let's detain them secretly forever, like Jesus would do!
Rumors of Americans abusing prisoners have been floating around for years, the U. S. media afraid until now to even suggest a problem. Even discounting the rumors, what is known about the methods of interrogation used by the U. S. intelligence community today is itself disturbing.
The following quotes come from a Salon interview with Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.
"But it's worth noting that Abu Ghraib isn't the only place where allegations of this sort have come out. Human Rights Watch has interviewed a number of people who have been detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the principal U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, and we received very similar accounts -- not the overt sexual abuse, but stripping detainees naked, dousing them with water, lengthy sleep deprivation, various forms of abuse." -- Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
"Our understanding is that the military has adopted a 72-point matrix of different forms of stress that can be imposed upon a detainee as part of "stress and duress" interrogation techniques....we understand it to describe different kinds of stress that can be put on a detainee -- how much sleep deprivation, how much sensory deprivation, how much sensory overload, what kind of handcuffing you can use -- a variety of different ways of putting pressure on a detainee to try to force him or her to cooperate with an interrogator. Obviously, while there is always some pressure inherent in being questioned or detained, this idea of ratcheting up the pain in various ways is a dangerous process that, I fear, almost inevitably will bring the U.S. government over the line into the area of prohibited cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment." -- Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
"There has been a culture of permissiveness with respect to interrogations that goes all the way to the top, including to Donald Rumsfeld. You see it first of all at Guantánamo, where the Bush administration basically ripped up the Geneva Conventions -- simply refused to apply absolutely straightforward provisions of the Geneva Convention with respect to who is a prisoner of war, what kind of hearing are they entitled to, things that were followed in other wars with enemies who were comparably hated." -- Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
"...in the cases of the two people who died in U.S. custody at Bagram Air Base about two years ago now, who were declared by the U.S. military [medical] examiner to be cases of homicide, still to this day there is no public accounting of what happened to the people who were responsible for those homicides." -- Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
"One thing we've learned in looking at dictatorships around the world is that, when people disappear, that's when the worst atrocities are committed. And in effect, we have a system of disappearance that the United States is running today, where people are picked up, sent off to detention facilities, and nobody even knows where they are. Their detention may not even be acknowledged unless it happens to be picked up by the press." -- Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
We must not forget that last year the Bush Administration argued in court that it had the legal right, if it so chose, to torture or kill the prisoners at Guantanomo Bay--that neither American law, International law, Cuban law, or the U. S. Constitution had any jurisdiction over what the Bush Administration did to those "illegal combatants".
It seems clear that the Bush Administration's attitude toward the people they "detained", their aggressive insistence that no law could interfere with their doing with these prisoners as they willed, and their dismissal of them as subhuman, stood as a green-light for the kind of abuse now in the public eye. A disregard for rule of law and moral decency leads--where else?--to lawlessness and indecency, even at the hands of Christians wearing WWJD bracelets.
Apology: there is no evidence that Bush or any of the military personnel who have abused prisoners wear (or have ever worn) WWJD bracelets. It is quite possible that if they had worn such bracelets they might have remembered the golden rule at appropriate times.
Maybe the real secret of the White House is that it contains no followers of Jesus.