The American Dilemma: Torture and the Divine Mission

Buencamino does foreign affairs analysis for the NGO Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the newspaper Today, page 9, 14 May 2004, Friday.

“This is how the military wants it.” – Sergeant Ivan Frederick, Abu Ghraib prison guard

Major General Antonio Taguba filed a report detailing exactly how the military wants it. Among the many techniques favored by the military were “1) Threatening male detainees with rape”; and 2) “sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.”

As a result of MG Taguba’s findings, the US Congress summoned War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top Pentagon brass to find out “what the hell was going on.”

It goes without saying that the subtext of calling Rumsfeld was to remind a skeptical world of America’s staunch commitment to truth, justice and the American Way, to demonstrate their system works, and to emphasize that the incidents in Abu Ghraib were not part of a system.

But Pierre Kraehenbuehl of the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) disagreed that the incidents were unique; he said, “There was a pattern and a system…”

The British newspaper, The Guardian, quoted a former British special forces officer who had just returned from Iraq saying, “It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I (resistance to interrogation) techniques…” And it added: “He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands.”

The Baltimore Sun, an American newspaper, revealed many years ago that
there were training manuals for interrogation, namely the 1963 CIA
Counter-Intelligence Manual (KUBARK) which was updated and renamed in
1983 to Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual.

One does not have to go through those manuals to see whether they bear any resemblance to another training manual in human exploitation called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The absence of similarity is obvious from the titles alone.

Schools and training manuals point to the existence of a system—a system that uses torture as a tool to intimidate, frighten, and subjugate. In order words, a system of terror. Anyone who supports that system is guilty of crimes against humanity. That includes the White House, which runs the national security apparatus, and Congress, which appropriates the funds for it.

The American people may not be aware of the history of the systematic
use of torture and terror by their government. Thus, cases like Abu Ghraib shock them. But countless countries that have been on the receiving end of America’s wrath are familiar with it. The Bush administration is not alone. One can go as far back as 1776 for accounts of American government brutality to those it considers enemies. But it was only in this century that an international consensus against such behavior emerged.

The use of chemical weapons in World War I marked the beginning of an
international awareness on the need to have some universal rules regarding warfare, including the treatment of prisoners of war. This awareness grew and gradually evolved into the International Criminal Court which was established by treaty on July 17,1988.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established to prosecute cases of aggression, genocide, human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity. Bill Clinton signed the treaty establishing the ICC and in 2002, George Bush withdrew the US’ signature from the treaty.

Thereafter, Bush launched an aggressive pursuit of bilateral treaties that would exempt American citizens from the ICC. The professed reason for rejecting the treaty and launching into bilateral exemption agreements was the protection of American soldiers involved in various peace-keeping missions around the world.

But The New York Times, in a report published on September 7, 2002, quoted a senior Bush official saying, “The soldiers are like the capillaries; the top public officials—President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell—they are at the heart of our concern.” And rightly so. They are the ones who formulate the policy and give the orders which Congress finances.

Values like equal justice, liberty, human dignity, democracy etc. are good. They are universal values and no one has a copyright on them. However, Americans equate those values with the American Way. They believe God entrusted them with a Divine Mission to share the American Way with the world using any and all means necessary to fulfill that Divine Mission. This is the heart of the American Dilemma. It is similar to the predicament faced by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition and the missionaries during the Conquista —that of having to use deplorable means to attain “worthy” ends.

America’s zeal is fueled by practical considerations. The best way of safeguarding the American way at home is by imposing Pax Americana abroad.

American leadership is compelled to investigate the Abu Ghraib affair to show the world that America works. They know the importance of demonstrating accountability in a democratic system. But that means holding just about everybody in leadership accountable because there is a torture system associated with the Divine Mission and they are all,
in one way or another, part of it.

Thus, American leadership finds itself in a hole. They will dig themselves deeper into that hole if they conduct an investigation beyond what Rumsfeld calls “the few who have betrayed their (American) values.” An investigation into the system of terror that supports the Divine Mission will lead to a re-examination of the mission itself. Thus Congress and the Bush Administration are forced to dig into the Abu Ghraib affair— with a spoon.

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