Be All That You Can Be

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Regarding the torture of Iraqi men by the American military as chronicled by the world’s press:

Janis Karpinski, reportedly a general in the American military, presided over the prison where it happened, and therefore over the torture. To her I want to say: I’m proud of you, Janis. As one who served in the armed forces, as one whose father was in the Pacific in World War II, and spent the rest of his career as a mathematician for the Navy, I want to thank you for making your prisoners give each other blow jobs. This is what America stands for, after all: Compulsory blow jobs. Giving sadistic little bitches and sons of bitches sex toys to torment. I’m proud of you, Janis.

Now, the soldiers who did it apparently were enlisted. What may we deduce from this?

Enlisted men do not undertake systematic complicated degradation and torture of prisoners without the knowledge and approval of their officers. The officers knew. Officers to what level? Officers are college graduates and understand the political implications of such things. A lieutenant is too junior to risk it and in any event couldn’t hide it from the captain. Prisons — I’ve been in a bunch of them — are intimate places. People know what goes on.

Karpinski, covering her behind (as well she might: this is war-crimes stuff and she could take the fall) says why she had no idea and who would have thought it and anyway the intelligence people were behind it. Sure. I believe she didn’t know. Stalin didn’t know what was going on either. Naw. In this business we’re all virgins.

But suppose, as Karpinski says, the intelligence agencies were behind it. Then it was deliberate, systematic, and authorized, wasn’t it? Not rogue soldiers. American policy. A general as much as says so. Intelligence agencies don’t just, oops, torture people systematically. You know, like stepping on the cat. Who could doubt the word of a general?

The pictures, note, are trophy pictures. The torturers are proud of what they are doing. They think it’s a hoot. They want to show people back home. (Though perhaps not their mothers.) Note how obedient the Iraqis are. Think about this. One man doesn’t give another a blow job for the amusement of Twiggy unless he is terrified of the consequences if he refuses. Is it only psychological torture? In the pictures, yes. Somebody is behind them with whips and pliers. Those men are scared shitless, and they have a reason.

Torture is routine in war and intelligence. We know about assassinations by the CIA and Mossad, don’t we? An agency that will kill people won’t torture them? It isn’t remotely just the Americans and Israelis. Pick your war and read the history. It’s everybody. If you enjoy gagging, the French in Algeria were particularly good.

Why does it happen? First, because it’s practical. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is lives. You capture a guy at the bomb factory. You want to know where the bomb will go off because you know it will kill all sorts of people you don’t want killed. He doesn’t want to tell you because he hates you. You squeeze it out of him. You do whatever you have to do. You crush joints, fire up the propane torch, chop off fingers an inch at a time and move up the arm. Don’t believe me? Pick your war and do some careful reading.

Second, soldiers come to hate the enemy, to regard him as subhuman, especially if he differs from them. When you have seen the remains of a friend who burned to death in an APC hit by Iraqi RPGs, philosophy departs. Our alleged common humanity takes fifth place behind a desire to kill the bastards any way possible. Torture? Why not? They’re worse than dogs.

Third, jobs involving torture attract people who like it. Would you crush a man’s testicles because the lieutenant ordered you to? Probably not, or not without misgivings. You might understand the reasoning: "Look, this guy is IRA and he knows where five hundred pounds of Semtex is hidden in downtown London. We have to find out." The arithmetic is hard to argue. And the terr can stop the proceedings simply by talking. You might see no choice.

But you would probably prefer to leave it to someone else, for when you were out of earshot.

So you need specialists. Always there are people around who are comfortable with torture and degradation, who just flat enjoy hurting people. They are called "sadists." They are useful. Note the smile on the face of the little minx who is making the Iraqi man masturbate for her. She is getting off. It’s fun. Note the expressions of the guys in the pictures. These are special people.

How surprising is any of this? Not very. War brutalizes people. It provides opportunities to people who are already brutal. This is no secret. The various Moslem groups torture prisoners. The Afghans are famous for it. Democracies lie about it, but they do it. Wars do not bring out the Emily Post in us. Torture is what we do.

Morals? Nobody has any. The Iraqi resistance doesn’t hesitate to car-bomb targets in downtown Baghdad, killing large numbers of civilians. The US forces don’t hesitate to bomb cities, killing large numbers of civilians. I get email from Americans revolted that GIs could engage in torture. But…that’s because we think our people should be above such things.

Some wars are necessary. Some aren’t. Why are we in Iraq? After WWII, the French occupied Vietnam (again) by force of arms; in 1954, after years of bloody war, they lost at Dien Bien Phu and left. In the late forties, the Jews occupied Palestine by force of arms; after years of bloody war, that one is still undecided. A bit later, the French, having learned nothing, did the same thing in Algeria; they lost again and left again.

Meanwhile the Americans, having learned nothing from all of this, occupied Vietnam by force; after years of bloody etc, they leaped off the top of the Embassy and fled. The Israelis, sigh, occupied southern Lebanon, and ….The Russians occupied Afghanistan and after years of bloody etc, got whipped. Is there a pattern here? Or did someone put something in my tequila?

Presumably having noticed none of this, America is occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq. We send our soldiers to preside over torture and humiliation. I doubt it’s what they enlisted for.

Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

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