Because They Can: The Logic of the Torture State


u201CThis is your god!u201D

That profane outburst fell from the lips of Pfc. Damien M. Corsetti — aka u201CMonster,u201D aka u201CKing of Tortureu201D — as he straddled a helpless Saudi detainee in a Soviet-constructed Afghan prison. Corsetti had just threatened to rape the detainee, and the supposed deity he referred to was the appendage with which he would commit that act. At the time, said appendage was pressed against the prisoner’s face.

This account was offered by a witness at Corsetti’s court martial. That witness testified for the defense. As Eliza Griswold recounts in the current issue of The New Republic, the tribunal u201Ccleared Corsetti of all charges. His lawyer successfully argued … that the rules for detainee treatment were unclear: `The president of the United States doesn’t know what the rules are. The secretary of defense doesn’t know what the rules are. But the government expects this Pfc. to know what the rules are?’u201D

So — at the time of Corsetti’s trial a year ago, the assumption was that sexual assault was considered a permissible interrogation tactic in the absence of a specific prohibition. He’d used the tactic before while working at Abu Ghraib: With the help of two comrades he forced an Iraqi woman to strip.

Why did he do this? Because he could.

There was no u201Cruleu201D against it, after all — apart from the law written on the heart by the Creator, that is. But Corsetti, as we’ve seen, had his own theology. And because he was permitted by his superiors to ignore the moral law, Corsetti finished his military career with an u201Chonorableu201D discharge.

He has since disappeared from public view. To me it seems likely he found a career in law enforcement, like his fellow torturer Samuel Franklin.

Three years ago this July, Franklin, a senior detective with the Campbell County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Department, presided over the prolonged torture of a pathetic small-time drug dealer named Lester Eugene Siler, who primarily trafficked in prescription drugs.

Franklin’s five-man crew included three other full-time law enforcement officers and a part-time process server. This squalid little gang was created with the help of a federal Byrne Grant (a Justice Department subsidy for counter-narcotics programs), and — like most criminal cliques of that sort — they were involved in a vulgar shakedown-and-skimming operation conducted under the color of government authority.

Eugene Siler and wife

Franklin’s squad descended on Siler’s home on July 8, 2004 on the pretext of serving a warrant for probation violations. Their real objective, however, was to rummage through the home in search of either money or contraband that could be used to justify seizing and forfeiting Siler’s assets. The police ordered Siler’s wife to take their son and leave; before doing so, however, she turned on a tape recorder, which captured roughly half of what turned into a two-hour torture session.

(The audio — if you can stand to listen — is here [mp3]; the transcript can be found here [.pdf].)

Detective Franklin, a 17-year veteran of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department, was also the DARE officer at the local school district. Bear that last fact in mind as we examine his conduct.

Campbell County’s Finest: Detective Franklin and his little shakedown-and-torture squad.

u201CLet me tell you what we’re gonna do,u201D explained Franklin, the moral tutor to Campbell County’s youth, as Siler — who had already been beaten once — cringed in terror. u201CWe’re gonna put them handcuffs in front of ya. Cut you a little slack. But if you don’t start operating [sic], we’re gonna put the motherf****rs behind your back, and I’m gonna take this slapjack and I’m gonna start working that head over, you understand?u201D

Officer David Webber elaborated on the plan: u201CWe’re gonna know everything about your business today. And you’re gonna take us and where you got your money, we’re gonna take every dime you have today and if we don’t walk out of here with every piece of dope you got and every dime you got, your f*****g a** is not going to make it to the jail…. We’re doing this on our own, and you’re gonna sign a consent to search form and you’re gonna give us permission to be here and you’re gonna do it our way, cause we’re tired of f*****g with your a**.u201D

Incidentally, the u201Cconsent formu201D the officers sought to torture Siler into signing stated, inter alia: u201CThis written permission is being given … knowingly and voluntarily to the aforementioned officer of my own free will and without any threats [or] coercion….u201D

In Bagram, Private Corsetti’s appetite for sadistic cruelty gave other interrogators leverage to extract confessions from detainees. Detective Franklin’s squad used the same tactic, although it’s not clear which of them was the designated u201Cheavy,u201D or if they traded off playing that role.

u201CThat’s just the f*****g beginning,u201D gloated Officer Webber after several beatings left Siler moaning in agony. u201CThis motherf****r right here [gestures to another officer, at this point almost certainly Detective Franklin], he loves seeing blood…. He loves it. He loves seeing blood…. He loves f*****g seeing blood. He’ll beat your a** and lick it off ya.u201D

At some point, 24-year-old Rookie Deputy Joshua Monday joined in the merriment, beating and taunting the handcuffed victim.

u201CIt’s gonna hurt worse,u201D Detective Franklin snarled at Siler. u201CIt’s getting worse.u201D As the victim persisted in refusing to sign the consent form, Franklin compounded the torture with threats against Siler’s family: u201CIf you don’t sign, I’m gonna go right back there where your wife’s at, and I’m gonna put her a** in jail. I’m calling the Department of Human Services and I’m gonna take your f*****g kids from you today….. I’m gonna slap the hell out of you till you damn bleed, so sign it.u201D

This went on for at least an hour: five grown men taking turns beating and taunting a terrified, illiterate, handcuffed man — a convicted drug peddler on probation, yes, but a human being and an American citizen whose rights are still protected by law.

And the torture eventually escalated to death threats:

u201CI’m gonna choke your a**, now sign it!u201D demanded Shayne Green, the civilian process server.

u201C[I]f you don’t sign it, you probably won’t walk out of here,u201D warned Officer Webber.

u201CShoot his f*****g a**,u201D Green later said in disgust, and at one point Deputy Monday threatened Siler with a gun:

u201CI’m gonna kill your f*****g a**! Now you either sign, or I’m gonna shoot ya!… I don’t give a f**k. I don’t give a f**k if you die.u201D

To Officer Webber goes the distinction of suggesting the sexual torture of the recalcitrant suspect:

u201C[T]hem batteries right there, I’m fixin to go out there and get some wires and hook ’em up to your f*****g balls. And if you don’t think I will, you don’t sign that form and watch what happens.u201D

After Siler had endured a prolonged beating (and, apparently, sexual torture through electric shock), Detective Franklin suggested releasing him from the handcuffs — u201Cthat way if he raises his damn hand to one of us, we have the right to beat the f**k out of him.u201D

What a brave guy — the very embodiment of the phrase “Good enough for government work.”

A little later, Deputy Monday suggested that they should murder Siler and frame him for armed assault using a pellet pistol found in his home:

u201CEugene, you’re gonna sign this right here or I’m gonna f*****g put a bullet in your damn head, and we’re gonna f*****g plant this BB gun.u201D

When that didn’t work, the gang dragged Siler off for a few rounds of water-boarding.

Surely it wasn’t necessary to beat, abuse, molest, and terrorize Siler in order to find a pretext for searching his house. So why did Franklin and his gang do so?

Because they could.

As I read the transcript, and saw how young Deputy Monday emerged as the most violent and sadistic of the officers, I made a small bet with myself that he was the first one to break when the FBI conducted its investigation of Franklin’s squad.

I won the bet: Monday broke right away, and began u201Ccooperatingu201D with the inquiry. All five are now in prison.

But the only reason this happened is because Siler’s wife had secreted a tape recorder where it could gather evidence, and had the presence of mind to turn it on before leaving her husband in the hands of his torturers.

How often does this sort of thing take place undetected?

Detective Franklin’s little gang, remember, was funded by the Federal Government through a Byrne Grant, and the purpose of squads of this sort is to rack up statistics that can be used to get bigger grants. That’s why Franklin and his cohorts were so adamant about extorting money from Siler.

Siler himself was a small-time crook of little consequence, but I will say this: By his refusal to relent under persistent torture and death threats — as well as threats against his family — he proved himself to be more of a man than any government employee I’ve ever met.

Just another day in the Land of the Free: A SWAT operator takes time out of a narcotics raid to escort a kindergarten-age child to the bathroom of his own home.

Revelations about Siler’s torture at the hands of federally funded drug cops lit up the blogosphere a couple of years ago. It’s worth reviewing that atrocity today in light of the fact that a couple of weeks ago the Feds and their local franchisees conducted u201COperation Byrne Drugs II,u201D a 36-state shakedown in which all of the familiar spots were raided, the usual suspects were rounded up, small but superficially impressive amounts of drugs and drug profits were drawn out of the vast and eternally self-replenishing ocean that is the underground drug economy, and self-congratulatory press releases were issued by everyone involved in the exercise.

Does anybody doubt that somewhere, someone involved in u201COperation Byrne Drugs IIu201D — acting in the serene confidence that his acts enjoyed the blessing of the State, and would never be made public — beat, tortured, and otherwise terrorized some inconsequential figure, just because he could?