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January, 2004

A Christmas Nightmare Torture Story
By Jim Scanlon

    Still half  asleep, I heard two interviews from my bed a few days before Christmas. One interview was of a song writer about a tactic used by US Army Psychological Warfare Experts to "persuade" Iraqi war prisoners to reveal secret information by playing children's music from Sesame Street and heavy metal rock music. Anyone who had ever worked in a retail store that played Christmas Muzak over and over would surely understand the effectiveness of the technique.
   The other person interviewed was an articulate, pleasant sounding "anti terrorism expert" from the US Central Intelligence Agency who discussed the "interrogation" of Saddam Hussein, the pathetic, deposed, fugitive, disheveled, depressed, possibly drugged, former president of Iraq who had been captured recently.  Ex president Hussein was reportedly betrayed by one of his  supporters after he had undergone four hours of "grueling" interrogation by US military forces.
   The CIA expert said he did not want to suggest that Saddam would be tortured, but went on to explain the likely methods of interrogation used by US and friendly countries, which stopped short of, in his opinion, "torture".
   The goal was to "wear the subject down" day after day, using a variety of techniques. He might be kept in an unchanging environment where he would not know where he was, isolated, meals would be provided at the same time. He would be disoriented. He might be put in an uncomfortable position, like leaning against a wall, or in a push up position. He might not be permitted to sleep ("Ve haf vays to make you talk!" Sesame Street songs perhaps?) or he might not be allowed to go to the bathroom [to urinate or defecate] He might be kept naked.  A hood might be placed over his head so he could not see who he was talking to.
  (So, I thought, this is what must have been going on in Guantanimo, day after day for the past two years.)
   The NPR interviewer asked if it might be implied to Saddam that, if he didn't cooperate he might be taken to another country which might not be so restrained in eliciting his cooperation.  (It is amazing how often this subject comes up!) The anti-terrorist expert responded that that sort of thing would not happen in this case since Saddam had to appear at a "show trial" and extra measures would be taken to prevent any charge of torture.
   (Ah ha, this is probably the reason why those guys in Guantanimo haven't had a trial or a show trail in over two years!)
   The words "show trial"  woke me up! I had read, and heard, those words hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my life, almost always in connection with public trials in Nazi Germany or Communist countries like the Soviet Union or China. People accused of spying for  the Free World had "show trials". That is, rigged, pro forma legal proceedings with a predetermined (guilty) outcome, total theater, designed  to create the fraudulent illusion of fair play and justice.
   The most famous were the Moscow Show Trials in 1936 during which a dozen or so "old Bolsheviks, (Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin and others) publicly admitted their guilt and were subsequently executed. At the end of the Korean War (1955) a number of US Army Prisoners of War chose not to be repatriated back home to the US, (at least initially). The behavior of these "turncoats" as they were called, as well as the collaboration  of many GI Prisoners of War with their captors let to much discussion and condemnation of North Korean Communist "brain washing" after grueling interrogations day in, day out. Many men broke under the pressure.
   In 1904, the great Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was awarded the Noble Prize for his work on conditioned reflexes in dogs  Because of the "turncoats" and hard sell TV advertisement, there was great interest in Pavlov's work in the 1950s since it was related to unconsciously changing behavior and mind control. (Remember "The Manchurian Candidate" a 1962 film which stared Frank Sinatra in which Lawrence Harvey is brainwashed into a robot like communist tool to assassinate a US president)
    Pavlov's ideas had implications for sudden religious conversions (like Saint Paul and modern day evangelicals)  phobias, combat fatigue (shell shock), and mental breakdowns. He had observed that when dogs were highly stressed and frightened, long established behavior patterns reversed. He called it "transmarginal inhibition"
   (There were repeated announcements on my radio that morning that the color code for terrorist alert had been raised again and I should be alert for another  9/11 like attack by Al Qaeda --- but I shouldn't worry, homeland security was on the job. There wasn't even a need to change my holiday plans!)
   The" Show Trial" utterance did not appear to have been unintentional, a Freudian Slip, so to speak, but its truthfulness illuminated the smooth unctuous reassurances of the "terrorism expert" that torture was not involved.  After all what torturer ever admits he (not "or she") is a torturer? Even to himself?
   After all, Saddam Hussein is really a prisoner of war and as such, under the terms of the Geneva Convention  on the rules of war, is entitled to give only his name, rank and serial number. If he is not drugged or brainwashed or doesn't suffer an accident from a "deranged lone gunman," or commit suicide, he might just want to talk, not about his guilt, but about his involvement with Donald Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger and others in the Reagan Administration during the Iraq Iran War.
   In the past, high ranking officers were usually treated with deference by their captors. When General von Thoma was captured by the British after the first major defeat of German forces in World War II at El Alamein  in Egypt in 1942, he had lunch with Field Marshal Viscount Bernard Montgomery.  A few months later when General von Paulus surrendered what was left of his Sixth Army at Stalingrad, he was treated well enough that he was one of the few German POWs  to make it back home after the war. The Japanese, on the other hand, were more uniformly cruel and brutal.
   At the end of the fourteenth century, soldiers of Timur the Great, a Mongol conqueror destroyed Baghdad and killed an estimated 20,000 people. He defeated Bayazid I a powerful Turkish sultan and reportedly kept him in an open cage like an animal until he died of hunger. In 1992 Anibal Guzman also called Comrade Gonzalo,  a Peruvian professor of philosophy  and the mysterious leader of the Maoist Communist Sendero Luminoso insurrection, was captured by Peruvian soldiers in a school for the ballet and publicly displayed in a  open cage dressed in a prison uniform of black and white stripes with even a black and white striped little hat.
  The United States of America, undoubtedly the most technically advanced country in the world is often presented as a "nation of laws" but is now so debased that the rules of war and business apply only to others. The transfer of prisoners captured by one army  to another is a violation of the rules: i.e. from the Northern Alliance (Uzbeks related to Timur) in Afghanistan to an out sourced, offshore US concentration camp in Cuba. We can show our unlawful combatants on television, others can't show ours.
   The US Army in Iraq conducts "round ups," arrests like a police force, and has begun once again, as in Vietnam in Operation Phoenix, to kill men identified by informants as "terrorists" ---no questions asked. This behavior resembles what the debased Israeli Defense Force has been doing in Palestine/Israel's West Bank and Gaza, and is a slightly more benign version of the behavior of the German World War II army of occupation in areas of southern and eastern Europe that were troublesome, like Serbia, Croatia, Poland and the Ukraine.
   A Google search for the word "torture" unexpectedly produced 8,110,000 hits. Of the first twenty, most were definitely "against" torture with a few sexual fetish sites seeming "for" "voluntary" torture" or Sado Masochism. Indeterminate were what seemed to be "Heavy Metal" rock and riot musical bands from northern Europe which seemed to symbolically emphasized violent sex, torture, cannibalism and other disgusting behavior. My guess is that they would be upset to know that their music was being used by the military to "torture" prisoners' It occurred to me some prisoners might like the music!
   For people too lazy or too stupid to think, torture and coercion are attractive. So is killing your opponents. But it  is bad policy: effective only in the short term. It demoralizes your troops, increases and incites opposition, is easy to start, but very hard to stop! The self righteous, fantasies of hurting those who hurt you or your friends, justifiable murder, mayhem and destruction, almost invariably lead to bad judgments and serious trouble.
   One hopes at the least, that the captured Saddam will be given a DNA test to make sure we don't find out 20 years from now that we have had the wrong Saddam as so often happens with us.
   And, just as a reminder, here, in the torturous prose of officious, official pronouncements, is how the UN defines torture:
   "...  torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person ... for such purposes as obtaining from him ... information or a confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him ...or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions."
   Finally, not wanting to get up and face the world, I fell into a profound sleep.

 

 

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