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Where Is the Outrage?

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Posted on May 27, 2008
Guantanamo protest
AP photo / Mary Altaffer

Protesters dressed as inmates demonstrate against the Guantanamo Bay detentions in front of Manhattan Supreme Court in January 2007 in New York.

By Robert Scheer

Are we Americans truly savages or merely tone-deaf in matters of morality, and therefore more guilty of terminal indifference than venality? It’s a question demanding an answer in response to the publication of the detailed 370-page report on U.S. complicity in torture, issued last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Because the report was widely cited in the media and easily accessed as a pdf file on the Internet, it is fair to assume that those of our citizens who remain ignorant of the extent of their government’s commitment to torture as an official policy have made a choice not to be informed. A less appealing conclusion would be that they are aware of the heinous acts fully authorized by our president but conclude that such barbarism is not inconsistent with that American way of life that we celebrate.

But that troubling assessment of moral indifference is contradicted by the scores of law enforcement officers, mostly from the FBI, who were so appalled by what they observed as routine official practice in the treatment of prisoners by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo that they risked their careers to officially complain. A few brave souls from the FBI even compiled a “war crimes file,” suggesting the unthinkable—that we might come to be judged as guilty by the standard we have imposed on others. Superiors in the Justice Department soon put a stop to such FBI efforts to hold CIA agents and other U.S. officials accountable for the crimes they committed.

That this systematic torture was carried out not by a few conveniently described “bad apples” but rather represented official policy condoned at the highest level of government was captured in one of those rare media reports that remind us why the Founding Fathers signed off on the First Amendment.

“These were not random acts,” The New York Times editorialized. “It is clear from the inspector general’s report that this was organized behavior by both civilian and military interrogators following the specific orders of top officials. The report shows what happens when an American president, his secretary of defense, his Justice Department and other top officials corrupt American law to rationalize and authorize the abuse, humiliation and torture of prisoners.”


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One of those top officials, who stands revealed in the inspector general’s report as approving the torture policy, is Condoleezza Rice, who in her capacity as White House national security adviser turned away the concerns of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft as to the severe interrogation measures being employed. Rice, as ABC-TV reported in April, chaired the top-level meetings in 2002 in the White House Situation Room that signed off on the CIA treatment of prisoners—“whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called water boarding. ...” According to the report, the former academic provost of Stanford University came down on the side of simulated drowning.

As further proof that women are not necessarily more squeamish than men in condoning such practices, the report offers examples of sexual and religious denigration of the mostly Muslim prisoners by female interrogators carrying out an official policy of “invasion of space by a female.” In one recorded instance observed by startled FBI agents, a female interrogator was seen with a prisoner “bending his thumbs back and grabbing his genitals ... to cause him pain.” One of the agents testified that this was not “a case of a rogue interrogator acting on her own.” He said he witnessed a “pep rally” meeting conducted by a top Defense Department official “in which the interrogators were encouraged to get as close to the torture statute line as possible.”

That was evidently the norm, according to FBI agents who witnessed the interrogations. As The New York Times reported, “One bureau memorandum spoke of ‘torture techniques’ used by military interrogators. Agents described seeing things like inmates handcuffed in a fetal position for up to 24 hours, left to defecate on themselves, intimidated by dogs, made to wear women’s underwear and subjected to strobe lights and extreme heat and cold.”

In the end, what seems to have most outraged the hundreds of FBI agents interviewed for the report is that the interrogation tactics were counterproductive. Evidently the FBI’s long history in such matters had led to a protocol that stressed gaining the confidence of witnesses rather than terrorizing them into madness. But an insane prisoner is the one most likely to tell this president of the United States what he wants to hear: They hate us for our values.

Robert Scheer’s new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America,” will be released June 9 by Twelve.

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By hippy pam, May 28, 2008 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

ROVE AND LAY AND RICE ETC???Why havn’t people STOOD UP AND SCREAMED “STOP NOW”!!!Oh right..We are trying to feed our families and pay the bills.“THEY” keep us TO BUSY TO STAND UP-FIGHT BACK-PUT A STOP TO THE

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By Eric Barth, May 28, 2008 at 7:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is why impeachment was made part of the Constitution. The Democratic Party leadership doesn’t get the point of this!! The point is not whether the Senate will vote to convict Bush, Cheney, Rice, for their crimes, but articles of impeachment would demonstrate that America actually recognizes that grievous wrong has been done and that we mean to correct. Those politicians voting against conviction (in this open and shut case)would identify themselves as what they are: enablers of illegal, aggressive war and all the evils that follow from it.

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By Sang Ze, May 28, 2008 at 7:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Americans are ignorant savages. Clearly most of the population condones and celebrates violence, including torture, as the sole means for resolving differences.

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By Maezeppa, May 28, 2008 at 7:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wrote “Humanize these captors” and I meant “Humanize these victims”.

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By Fadel Abdallah, May 28, 2008 at 6:53 am Link to this comment

Excellent article by Robert Scheer!
Yet, the question of “Where is the rage?” at the grassroots level persists, and here’s where the problem lies. Few isolated voices of outcry here and there do not shake the wrongdoers. We need a thunderous outcry coming from at least 70% of Americans. If this percentage cannot be mustered, then there is a disease in the society that allows abuse and wrong to thrive.

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By jackpine savage, May 28, 2008 at 6:48 am Link to this comment

I’m deeply ashamed and morally outraged too.  Like Expat, i left this country because of those feelings; unlike Expat, i was fool enough to come back. 

We’ve sunk just about as low as a nation can sink, and contrary to many of our wishes, We the People are responsible…left, right, center, active, and apathetic.  That we can blame the government or an administration or a political philosophy is nothing more than a balm for the conscience.  So long as we still spout off about freedom and democracy, all of this is on our hands.

But is it greatly different than other acts that the US has perpetrated?  Is it so much more vile than trading syphilis blankets?  Slavery?  Lynching?  Fire bombing civilian populations?  Napalm?  Maybe it is; we should have grown and learned by now.

And perhaps gulags and institutionalized torture with nary a peep from those who promote freedom and liberty suggests that we’ve gone past the point of no return…we’ve become what we profess to hate and stand against.

I haven’t heard any of the candidates state flatly that they will discontinue the practice of torture, and since it was created by executive fiat, it can be rescinded by executive fiat.  Are you planning on voting for a torturer?

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By Fidhlear, May 28, 2008 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Because the report was widely cited in the media and easily accessed as a pdf file on the Internet, it is fair to assume that those of our citizens who remain ignorant of the extent of their government’s commitment to torture as an official policy have made a choice not to be informed.”

Not so fast! You make it sound like we’re tripping all over it and ignoring what’s in front of us.  It’s not so easily found. I just spent 1/2 hour on Google and in the blogosphere (and even on the FBI site) looking for a link. Nothing. NADA. Zip. Only references to it. How come?

Please, someone give me the link.

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By tomack, May 28, 2008 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

Be careful, Mr. Scheer, to whom you ask that question. Better not ask me, or for that matter the others on this post—by the looks of the responses. Perhaps you should go door to door in West Virginia and ask that question. Or stop in a local bar or two in So. Indiana. Better yet, try the Ladies Auxiliary in Chevy Chase for a polite FU. On the one hand you face racism and on the other, greed. The racists are happy we are torturing the bad guys, and the rich are making beaucoup bucks because of it. 

There is a sizeable percentage of our citizenry who are NOT “terminally indiffernt” or “moraly tone-deaf”. These people are most assuredly on the bandwagon and in on the game plan. And like it that way!

Pound on their door, not mine.

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By KISS, May 28, 2008 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

More propaganda from the christian government. The true believers see no sin in dealing harshly with the muslim heretics. In the name of jesus, torture is not a sin. While the vast majority of Amerikan despise and condemn Hitler, we proudly condone the Bush cabal for the dirty deeds of insanity. As for the black vitriolic bitch,Condoleezza Rice,in a more enlighten society she would be getting the psychiatric help she so sorely need.

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By Purple Girl, May 28, 2008 at 5:04 am Link to this comment

I am Offended you lay this on the door of the citizens of the USA, We have been used, gagged and bound by all three branches of ‘Gov’t’ We have been the ones to take the ‘Blows’ for the MICS heinous acts throughout the world. Our Flag , Our treasures and our Blood has paved the way to their Quest for a ‘New World Order’ we are mere Pawns and Resources for them and their Goal!
WE were not the target on 9/11 - It was those who have hidden behind OUR Flag. The ‘shadow’ Gov’t, The Multinational Corps and their sponsoring ‘royals’ of oppressive Nations.
many of US have been screaming about this ‘entity’ for Decades! We demanded they stop their connections and Crimes in the ‘70’s by clearly stating we wanted OUT Of the M.E! THEY REFUSED! They just dug in deeper and ultimately used US as their Human shields!
We must make this Very Clear by Prosecuting all involved for the last 3-4 decades. Starting Point the Nixon Adminstration- Cheney, Rummy , Wolfie and no doubt many more (Baker?).They have been carrying out covert operations, Treason , War Crimes & Crimes against Humanity.
We want to bring them to Justice for these High crimes- However such accomplices as Pelosi & Reid have intentionally Blockaded these RIGHT. It is time we CLEAN OUR HOUSES of the ‘four Horsemen’- Subversive Gov’t personnel, Corp Pirates, Media Propagandists and Religious DECEIVERS/Heretics!
They have ruined our country, our reputation, and our future. they msut all be held Accountable for these Highest Of Crimes!Personal Responsiblity for their decisions and Actions, with the Highest punishment to be carried OUT!

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By Maezeppa, May 28, 2008 at 3:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Far from being shamed or horrified, American xenophobics look at the jumpsuits and the hoods and feel vastly reassured, and grateful to the captors.

I think ‘stranger fear’ is hard-wired into humans and I believe this fear can be fairly easily stimulated.  It seems right wing politicians recognized this and use it as part of a wedge strategy.  Those of us who have lived in more dense and urban environments or who have been raised to appreciate and be curious about other cultures have a more diminished sense of alarm.  To the xenophobics we look blissfully unaware at best and allied with the enemy at worst.

How to overcome this?  Humanize these captors.  Media’s job is to help people set aside their emotional reactions by availing them of the facts but our media has been coopted by the fifth column, the Cheney types, if you will, so I think it is hopeless no matter who wins the White House this November.  I’d love to be wrong but these last eight years have been so brutal I don’t think I’ll ever regain my confidence in this country’s ability to right and reinvent itself.

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By Expat, May 27, 2008 at 11:31 pm Link to this comment

^ to ask if this article is bait for your new book?

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By Expat, May 27, 2008 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment

^ question on this site (and others) for more than one year.  At best I get weak responses and see no tangible results.  I joined regional discussion groups to no avail.  Actually, I’ve asked this question since late 2002 when it became apparent we were going to attack another country based on lies that were known to be lies back then!  So, I left in May 2003, and frankly I’m to the point where I just about don’t give a shit anymore.  I’m angry, oh so angry at the crimes of my government and the lack of caring by the majority of Americans.  So; if you think this latest revelation, of a long ongoing crime will create action, you are sadly mistaken.  The last straw is this laughable campaign and the candidates that the media forced down our throats with nary a whimper from the electorate.  The blind are leading the stupid, leading the ignorant who are leading the apathetic.  Politically, economically and governmentally; walking into America today is like walking into the remains of a house hit by a class 5 Tornado.  Good luck, you’ll need it.

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By ocjim, May 27, 2008 at 11:11 pm Link to this comment

I have been outraged since Bush stole the office of president, but I am powerless to do anything about it. Intimidation and pressure were with the corrupt Bush forces from the beginning, as was the media. In fact, the media still gives Bush III a free ride.

I have written countless letters to newspapers, to online sources, to representatives at state and federal levels—you name it. I’ve covered the whole gamut.

Out of all of that effort, still no one is accountable.

Tom DeLay—high, dry and corrupt—is almost a celebrity, used by CNN for reporting on the election. Karl Rove, malevolent and Machiavellian, writes for the WSJ. William Kristol, one of the architects of a criminal war, writes a column for the NY Times.

Eventually you say what’s the use when no one cares, listens, or notes the vast crimes committed by the corrupt neocon forces. You begin to understand how democracies fall and empires crumble—it is when people just don’t care that much.

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