That Torture Thing

Posted by sepoy on August 03, 2005 · 6 mins read

Remember those "Not in my name" signs that Muslims lifted up after London bombing. Today, I feel like walking around campus with a Not in my name placard around my neck. Problem is, this IS in my name. You see, I may not be responsible for the acts of deranged Muslims in Kashmir or Lahore or London but I am responsible for the acts of a government that was elected by me and whose coffers I fill with my tax dollars.

We made jokes about torture. The joke used to be that anyone arrested for whatever offense met the delightful Ms. 17. Ms. 17 being a leather sole of size 17 that was kept in a cold bucket of water at the Sadr Police Station. The detainee was laid across two chairs set sideways and a bit apart. Sipahis sat, one each, on the chest and legs of the detainee draped across the chairs. His bare feet were then smacked with the wet leather sole. You get arrested and you met Ms. 17. Our jokes were the ribald, one-liners of teenagers who grew up looking at mutilated carcasses as pictoral ledes in daily newspapers, victims of torture [RAW agents, the General would tell us]. The policeman could smack you, push you, beat you down. The armyman could do worse. The NA member could smack everyone Civil Services Grade 21 and lower. Power, in my humble country, lives out in the street as naked aggression.

The debate on torture in this country is frankly the debate about a captured 20th hijacker at T -10 minutes. Will you shoot him in the knee? Pull out his finger nails? There is a devastation ticking towards itself. Torture is not about the hijacker; it is about the innocent whose lives are about to end. What would you do? Right? The sad thing is that there always will be a bomb about to go off. It will. Those deaths will get blamed on the terrorists. No compromises. No issues of morality or culpability. My question is, who is morally culpable for the torture and death of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush. This guy was a bad man, for sure. I cannot imagine anyone going up the ranks of Saddam's Republican Guard without losing one's humanity along the way and doing atrocities. So. Clear cut case: Bad Guy. What I do know is that the we lied about the way the captured him, what we did to him and how he died. Lied.

Because that is the second front in the discussion on torture. We have rules. See? The truth is in the system. It takes care of the few bad apples. There are tribunals in Gitmo. The murder of this terrorist Iraqi is being charged to two army officers. Bad apples, them. Isn't this enough to claim moral release? And if we have send some people overseas on "renditions" to get "questioned" than that's ok, too. We, the Americans, aren't doing it, right? It is as Lewis Welsohfer says: "The bottom line is that what interrogators do is a dirty job but saves lives." Lives of you and me living in Chicago and Newyork. People only die because someone doesn't follow the "rules of interrogation". Welsohfer scribbled in longhand over the report about Mowhoush: "Death was from asphyxiation! I expect better adherence to standards in the future!" We have standards. Tested ones. Standards. This may squeeze one or two lives but we are better than Saddam's gas chambers.

Honestly, I have no idea what to say. I live a sheltered existence far from tortures and renditions and interrogations. Yet, beatings and vanishings are not alien to me. I know people who disappeared for years under Zia. I am sure they vanish under The General as well. Interrogations happen everyday. In this city on the hill, death row sentences get overturn habitually for beaten confessions. I guess there is only one thing that bothers me. That, actually, frightens me and that is that there is no discussion of shame or culpability. It is all clinical. Detached. Removed. It happens in Cuba. In Iraq. In Pakistan. In Egypt. They do it to them. Newspaper exposÈs come and go [btw, the Mowhoush case was all covered by the Denver Post since November with dogged investigations - so feel free to read up on it there] and then silence.

Well, we do it. I do it. I give my goverment tacit consent by not challenging them, by not holding them accountable, by not calling Durbin and Obama and demanding they start an investigation. I know it won't change anything. But, my morality does not allow me to remain silent. If torture is needed and demanded by this WoT, then let us be honest, have a debate, and do it in the open and make jokes about Ms. 17. Have you heard the one where this seductress caresses you and teases you but you never get off?


kabina | August 03, 2005

kidnappings and beatings...cakewalk. i remember listening to stories involving delectable acts of sadism such as using electric drill machines...etc etc etc in karachi, ofcourse...back in the day

Jonathan Dresner | August 06, 2005

I go away for a few days in despair for the blogosphere, and suddenly everyone's talking about interesting stuff. I just got done leaving a long comment about just this topic. I agree, wholeheartedly.