America and Torture: For Whom is the Praise?

Twelve past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in four separate fields from 1976 to 2011 directed an open letter to another Nobel Prize winner, President Barack Obama, requesting that he inform the U.S. and the world of the content of an intelligence report regarding various torture techniques administered in interrogations of detainees on charges of terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001. The White House, still siding with their own intelligence organizations over human rights and freedom, agreed only to release 500 of the 6000 pages. That is, the U.S. has only granted access to 1/12 of the facts. No more!

Although the letter was written with gentility, the signatories did not hesitate to name a number of other regimes and states guilty of torture, such as Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and the French occupation in Algeria. “The questions surrounding the use of torture are not as simple as how one should treat a suspected terrorist, or whether the highly dubious claim that torture produces ‘better’ information than standard interrogation can justify its practice. Torture is, and always has been, justified in the minds of those who order it. But the damage done by inflicting torture on a fellow human being cannot be so simplified. Nor is the harm done one-sided. Yes, the victims experience extreme physical and mental trauma, in some cases even losing their lives. But those inflicting the torture, as well as those ordering it, are nearly irreparably degraded by the practice.”

The letter concludes with four demands: 1) The full disclosure of the extent of torture and detention used by U.S. troops, contractors and officials who authorized it; 2) the complete closure and dismantling of confirmed detention and torture sites; 3) a clear plan to close Guantanamo Bay and end detention without trials and 4) complete conformance to international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Charter against torture. Hopefully, the U.S. can then return to “the enlightened ideals of America’s founders that changed civilization on Earth for the better, and made the U.S. a giant among nations.”

Hearing from such wise signatories should certainly influence any decent Nobel Prize winner, much less one who advocates for their causes. They referred to Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who provided the background for what is being discussed, such as the establishment of Guantanamo, U.S. infringement of international law and the “War on Terror.” Bush said in March 2002, “Remember… the ones at Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don’t share the same values we share.”

If it is about values, moral or intellectual, political or cultural, it should depend on the laws of independent judiciaries and fair courts. Any violation of the rights of individuals detained in Guantanamo are perfectly legitimate despite U.S. efforts to exacerbate them. Morality is absolute and should not be subject to various political, military and economic standards, as everyone knows.

Put simply, the truth is that of the 500 Guantanamo prisoners of 35 different nationalities, only nine have been charged with crimes. Some were arrested in Afghanistan, others through an illegal kidnapping practice by the CIA in other parts of the world. All of them have been subject to physical and psychological torture, not the least of which is communication deprivation, deliberate humiliation, chained restriction and the forcible wearing of dark sunglasses. When some of them dare to hunger strike, which is quite common in Western democracies, they are force fed through plastic tubes in their nose.

Does this behavior not represent the American people? Absolutely. One might recall how the barbarians of Abu Ghraib were soldiers in the U.S. Army, carrying the American flag and fighting a crusade which their White House leaders commanded them to fight. Then how is this reconciled with the image of the “Free World,” in light of its colonial history? Remember that this is the same America who voted repeatedly to launch a war on false grounds. Did they not know that voting again for the same candidate would lead to another four years of destruction on a cosmic level, filled with aircraft carriers and armies of conservatives, McCarthy-ists and veterans?

But some might say that the election of the first black man in American history, with an agenda so unlike his predecessor’s, would lead to a balance between national security and American moral values. This would be true had Obama had the courage to implement his policies, prohibit torture (beyond U.S. territory), and order the closure of Guantanamo—fully. Obama remained adamant in not stepping forward and has not taken responsibility for the “torture memos,” citing issues of sensitivity regarding U.S. security.

Before Obama made his promises, three books have been published on the matter: Philippe Sands’ “Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values,” Jameel Jaffer’s and Amrit Singh’s “Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond,” and Michael Ratner’s “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by the Book.” In addition, Seymor Hersh, Mark Danner, Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind have led investigations, so only 500 pages of a 6000 page document seems rather insufficient.

Will this issue go away? Obama said that suffering was necessary for peace when he received the Nobel Prize. Has he not inflicted this suffering in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria? Why would Nobel Prize sages applaud a fellow winner armed to the teeth, carrying a peace prize in one hand and a bomber, missile and drone in the other?

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