W. David Jenkins: God Rest Ye Merry Torturers
God Rest Ye Merry Torturers
By W. David Jenkins III
The snow finally arrived in my little conservative pot-hole in upstate New York . As much as I detest winter and the cold, there’s something incomparably peaceful about a late December night as the snow falls. The quiet is so intense that you can almost hear the flakes touch the ground. The only thing breaking the silence is the sound of the chains of a lone snow plow in the distance or, if the hour is early enough, the bells of one of three churches in my neighborhood chiming a Christmas carol. It’s kind of Norman Rockwell when you get right down to it. But there’s a problem.
Right now, on this very night while I take in the quiet warmth and comforting seclusion with my family this holiday season, somewhere out there is a man far from his loved ones. He wears a hood and his hands are bound behind his back. He lies bruised and naked in a dark, cold makeshift prison cell. The echoes of his screams still ring in his ears as immeasurable fear overtakes his very soul.
We don’t know who he is anymore than his family knows where he is. No one knows if he’s guilty of anything nor does anyone know if he’s just one of those “errors in policy” that Secretary of State Condi Rice referred so deprecatingly to during her recent trip to Europe . One thing we do know, however, is that the abuse of this man and others like him is being done in our name – with or without our approval.
Now I’m not so disillusioned to think that the history of this country is not tainted by actions and policies that would shock the average person. As lofty as the ideals of the founding fathers might have been, we cannot escape the fact that the genocide of the native people of this land centuries ago was perceived by some to be crucial to attaining those ideals. And that’s just the beginning. Our country’s history is rife with cruelty coupled with a sense of entitlement as we marched towards that American Dream.
We have plotted assassinations of leaders we disliked, we’ve dropped an uncountable tonnage of bombs, we’ve helped to overthrow governments and we have supported dictators, all in the name of democracy or preserving American values. And, yes, we’ve tortured people. From the “Stress and Duress” practices during the Kennedy administration to the teachings of the School of the Americas , a center for educating in the ways of torture, this country’s policy makers have relied on abusive and cruel tactics.
Even the Clinton administration cooperated with the abuse of a close friend of Ramzi Yousef by Philippine officials. Yousef was the mastermind behind the ’93 WTC bombing who was convicted in 1997. The information attained by one Abdul Hakim Murad was crucial to the successful prosecution of Yousef. We don’t know what happened to Murad although we can assume that it wasn’t pretty, but we do know that by selective use of questionable interrogation tactics, Ramzi Yousef is now serving a life sentence – unlike Osama bin Laden. I guess that’s the crux of the whole torture argument; one more thing that Bush has botched up at our expense and in our name.
Torture is now an indiscriminate industry under Bush. Rather than the secretive policy practiced by leaders of the past and administered as a last result upon people who were known to have certain intelligence, we have now adopted practices prone to gross error upon innocent individuals in a kind of deplorable reenactment of “Soylent Green.” In other words, we have the “bulldozers” out scooping up people all over the world based upon the fact that they might have intelligence that could be useful. The prudence of the use of extraordinary rendition is now a thing of the past – Bush has made it a reckless and blanket policy. Had people been paying attention years ago, they might have seen it coming.
Back in the spring of 2002, I remember a small text box in the NY Times reporting that Bush had withdrawn America ’s signature from the International Criminal Court on May 6. I remember thinking to myself that this was not a good sign of things to come. Why on earth would he do such a thing? After all, we had just been attacked about eight months before and had the cooperation and sympathies of practically the entire world. Why then would we thumb our nose to an international institution that might aid us in our mutual struggle?
Okay, okay – I was just kidding. I knew damn well what was up. It was a case of CYA (Cover Your A…..) because this administration knew damn well what policies they were going to implement. To his credit, Bush came right out in the days after 9/11 to the Rose Garden and told everyone that “we’re not going to tell you everything” and that is exactly the way they’ve proceeded – even after they get caught.
American leaders are now debating and defending torture during this season of “Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men” – I mean it’s all so ghastly. And the most ironic aspect in all of this argument is that those who defend this abusive policy the loudest are the very same who are fired up over the alleged “war on Christmas.”
There is a photo that was published early on in the invasion. It showed a hooded Iraqi sitting in the desert with his six year old son sitting on his lap. That image still haunts me to this day because, as the father of a six year old boy myself, the thought of what that man and that little boy must have been feeling at that time is simply too painful to think about. I want to know, what ever happened to them?
I want to know if that same dad became that naked and beaten figure in that cold wet cell somewhere far away from that little boy. I want to know how many more families have been affected by this not so secret and widespread cruelty that our leaders tell us is for our own good as well as our safety. I want to know how we as a country have become so paranoid and so lost that we would actually defend such behavior.
And while I cannot seem to get the image of that photo out of my mind, I also cannot seem to get the image of the boy president furiously ripping off the wrapping paper of his new X-Box 360 on Christmas morning.
God rest ye merry torturers.