Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dare We Call It Torture

Preliminary hearings began last week in the court-martial of two Army dog handlers, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona and Sgt. Michael J. Smith, who used their unmuzzled dogs to terrify, intimidate, and attack defenseless prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Among other things, they are accused of using their dogs in a macabre game to see who could make the most prisoners defecate and urinate on themselves. The L. A. Times and Washington Post have solid coverage, with the Post observing that the use of dogs to intimidate and terrify prisoners originated, like other abuses with which Abu Ghraib has become synonymous, at Guantanamo, the notorious non-Gulag, non-combatant prison camp on Cuba where, according to Vice President Dick Cheney, "bad guys" are kept and according the Bushies torture doesn't occur.

I have talked before and written about the long and sordid history of using dogs against people. Here, I'll just repeat that it is violation of the dog-human bond because it asks the animal that serves us so well, that evolved with us as a guardian, companion and helper, to turn against the very creatures--humans--it asked is supposed to assist. Dogs will say, "no," on occasion, but in doing so they often pay a steep price. At Abu Ghraib some handlers and their dogs said, "no," while others apparently did not, and it those who assented who now find themselves on trial, while once more the people who ordered the abuse escape even mild censure.

Jane Mayer presents evidence in The New Yorker of July 11 and 18, 2005, that scientists and doctors on the military's Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, originally created to help American soldiers resist interrogation and torture, are involved in advising American interrogators on the best ways to break down their prisoners. By most objective accounts, these "harsh" techniques are, if not outright torture, at least violations of the Geneva Conventions and every human rights protocol around, not to mention, for doctors, the Hippocratic oath--"do no harm." But, as everyone should know by now, President George W. Bush has declared that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to these captives and his administration said that for something to rise to the level of torture it must cause pain on the order of magnitude of organ failure, permanent "'impairment of bodily function,'" or death. Mayer cites chapter and verse in her piece.

The military's top legal experts objected to the Bush policy on interrogations, arguing that it violated the law and put American service men and women at risk, were they to be captured, the New York Times reports today. But they were ignored, as are dissenters still to this non-reality based president.

Still, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo tortures could not be concealed or ignored forever. Now, Bush has disavowed torture, as he defines it, yet his administration actively opposes any Congressional move to mandate decent treatment for prisoners, modest though those efforts may be. It appears that the Bushies really want to cover over what they are doing--or at least obscure it from view.

This morally rigid, antediluvian, anti-Modernist--anti-Enlightenment, I should say-- president and his advisers and supporters, who regularly mock literary theories that question the the ways we read and understand texts and became apoplectic over Bill Clinton's linguistic gymnastics, not to mention his sexual adventures, are the most extreme moral and intellectual relativists and twisters of text around. They redefine everything.

With their improper naming, they prove the wisdom of Confucius, which I cited in the previous blog, "Seeing Is Believing." Confucius wrote in Analects: "If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success." The result is such a breakdown in order that ultimately "the people do not know how to move hand or foot."

Forget ethics and the law, which can be parsed a hundred ways to hell: What the Bushies are doing in the name of the "war on terror" fails the simple "me and mine test." It's easy to take: Would I want to be treated that way were I to be taken prisoner? Would I want my son or daughter or brother or sister or mother or father or significant other, if captured on a battlefield, held as a person to whom the Geneva Conventions do not apply? It's similar to the question I put to people who stick a shock collar on their dog: Are you willing to put that thing around your own neck?

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