HBO premiered a documentary last night about the torture of prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The administration and its fellow travelers dispute the word “torture”, something they have tried to define as causing organ failure or death, not “mere” psychological torture or pain inflicted without persistent damage. Quibbling about words sounds like the tactic of someone with something to hide. Of course at Abu Ghraib there was indeed torture leading to death. No one was punished for such murders, only for embarrassing the Army by taking pictures. The naïve soldiers actually believed the story that a prisoner who died from torture had suffered a routine heart attack. They didn’t realize they were photographing a murder. Without pictures, no one except the Army and the prisoners would have known how bad it was. Even with these pictures, only the Army and prisoners know how much worse the actual interrogations were. Strange how perfect crimes go wrong.
I don’t know how important it is that from the President on down, no one has taken responsibility for the systematic brutality that was captured by the pictures at Abu Ghraib, and for what? I’m sure it’s wrong, as opposed to some other issues about the war in Iraq and fighting terrorism that aren’t as clear to me, yet so many accept this and fight over things that make me shrug. I do know that there was systematic brutality. This documentary establishes that for anyone who hasn’t gotten that from newspapers and other TV already.
Will any politician ever be willing to get to the bottom of this or the top if that’s the more appropriate finding? Many people have been more loyal to the Army or to President Bush at this point than to the principle that it’s wrong to torture people, pretending that with this one exception of approved stress positions gotten carried away at Abu Ghraib, everyone is sticking to the regulations about acceptable torture. Right, I find the sight of Army officers and administration officials staring into the camera saying everything’s fine, our soldiers are stopping just short of real torture, to be more chilling than any of the pictures from Abu Ghraib. And think of all who called CBS traitors for airing these pictures in the first place.
There were plenty of prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were there by mistake, no matter how evil some of them were. I was once taught that America stands for the principle that it’s better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned. The reality of American justice hasn’t often been that careful, but when did we go to the idea that 10 men would be tortured, innocent, guilty, who cares, so that maybe one man would say a little bit more about something, truth, desperate lie, who cares? Many Republicans have signed on to this shift in what America means. That shouldn’t be forgotten. If Americans want this, their votes will signal that. I for one don’t want America to stand for torture. That’s my vote.