JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

"A Case for Torture Redux" is © Martha Rosler, 2007

1. On March 16, 1968, a Company of the U.S. Army murdered between 350 and 504 defenseless civilians, primarily women, old men, and babies, in the village of My Lai in the hamlet of Son My in South Vietnam. Many of the victims, especially women, were abused before the massacre, and some survivors afterward. Initial reports to officers and civilian authorities were ignored despite photographic evidence and testimony. It was the photographic evidence of dead children that finally prevented a cover up. Although 26 soldiers and officers were charged, only one, Lieutenant William Calley, was convicted of any crime. Calley was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, but through a series of interventions and reviews, including one by President Nixon, Calley served only about 3 years, mostly under house arrest. Calley wrote, in self-justification:

"We weren't in Mylai to kill human beings, really. We were there to kill ideology that is carried by—I don't know. Pawns. Blobs. Pieces of flesh, and I wasn't in Mylai to destroy intelligent men. I was there to destroy an intangible idea. To destroy communism.... I looked at communism as a Southerner looks at a Negro, supposedly. It's evil. It's bad." (pp. 104-105)

Also: "And babies. On babies everyone's really hung up. 'But babies! The little innocent babies!' of course, we've been in Vietnam for ten years now. If we're in Vietnam another ten, if your son is killed by those babies you'll cry at me, 'Why didn't you kill those babies that day?’.... We stopped the peoples [sic] and one of the GIs asked, 'What are we to do with them?' I said, 'Well, everything is to be killed—.'" (pp. 102-103)

A scant few years later, Argentine dictator Jorge Videla Redondo, leader of a junta that presided over the extrajudicial torture and murder of about 30 thousand of its citizens, is reported to have opined,

“A terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western and Christian civilizations.”[return to page one ]

2. Levin was later embroiled in a racist controversy with an African American professor at his college and, more recently, he has been noted as a regular attendee of conferences run by a white suprematist group, American Renaissance.

3. The term “neoconservative,” shortened to “neocon,” designates a hawkish right-wing scourge, often a former Cold War liberal or even a Trotskyist, in favor of aggressive foreign expansionism and a national security state under a “unitary executive” rather than the Constitutionally mandated tripartite government. The term is meant to differentiate those so designated from “paleocons ” (paleo- is the Greek prefix denoting old), more traditional conservatives who are generally anti-statist and often against foreign military involvement. These groups are at loggerheads over the disastrously intrusive, and monstrously expensive, policies of the Bush-Cheney administration.

4. The Weekly Standard, December 5, 2005 (Vol. 11, issue 12). Krauthammer chooses to illustrate his argument with a cartoon version of torture while presumably knowing quite well that much more systematic and sophisticated methods are in use. See below.

5.. Military historian Andrew J. Bacevich, in a review article in the Nation (“The Semiwarriors,”April 23, 2007), describes the increasing militarization of U.S. foreign policy under successive postwar administrations. Bacevich refers to the reigning theory as “semiwar,” using a term coined by James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense when that department was created after the end of the Second World War. Bacevich traces the decline in the power of ordinary citizens and the Congress to this (covert) doctrine of governance, in which the president is more and more conceived of as “the commander in chief” rather than as a civilian head of state in charge of one branch of government among a triad of coequals. Under this doctrine, the government operates by a rule of secrecy that fits well with the Straussian and neoconservative ideology outlined above. See also Hannah Arendt’s review of the Pentagon Papers, astonishingly contemporary in its observations (“Lying in Politics: Reflections on The Pentagon Papers,” New York Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 8, Nov. 18, 1971).

6. An essay could be devoted to that particular slogan, but let me simply observe that surveys have revealed that the more people watch Fox, the less they know about public events; the signal delusion here is that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the events of September 11.

7. The decision that long-settled telecommunications law and regulations did not apply to cablecasts, as they did to broadcast media, was part of this great change.

8. A standard provided to President Bush by his obliging lawyers Alberto Gonzales (a former real estate lawyer and George Bush’s obliging ancilla in the Texas statehouse)  and John Yoo (a young right-wing lawyer whose opinions defended unlimited Presidential power in wartime and declared sections of the Geneva Conventions of the treatment of prisoners to be obsolete), with the help of David Addington, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Think of Carl Schmitt in this context.

9. Despite this, on January 27th, 2005, President Bush told the New York Times that “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture”—see Jane Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America’s ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Program,” New Yorker, Feb. 14, 2005. Several cases that subsequently have come to light have provided the president a liar, including that of the Syrian-born Canadian engineer Maher Arar, cited by Mayer as having been kidnapped, thanks to faulty intelligence from Canadians, while in transit in 2002 through a U.S. airport and sent to Syria for months of torture. (Arar, released over a year later, subsequently received a public apology, not from the U.S., but from the Canadian government, which also provided him with a financial settlement.)  Although most references to “rendition,” or abduction and relegation of people whom U.S. agents have kidnapped, describe them as having been sent to Syria, Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, and other draconian regimes whom we otherwise denounce for their lack of “human rights,” the U.S. has also sent such prisoners to its own newly constructed, highly technologized secret prisons in countries like Poland and Romania, in the Russian “near abroad,” the counterpart of our Latin American and Caribbean “back yard.” It has been alleged that Germany has also secretly held such prisoners for the U.S.. Rendition is the prelude to mistreatment and torture.

On the matter of kidnapping and transport, or rendition, here is Jane Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture,” cited above:

“In 1998, Congress passed legislation declaring that it is ‘the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States."

As Mayer notes, however, the Bush government claimed that “new rules of engagement” required a “New Paradigm” (as named by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales) to deal with “stateless terrorists” and quickly extract information from captives. Days after the events of September 11, 2001, Vice-President Dick Cheney made his notorious “dark side” remark on a television talk show, earning him the epithet Darth Vader (the evil opponent in the Star Wars movies) among the liberal blogs: we will

“work through, sort of, the dark side. …A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective” (ibid).

10. Our proxy fighters included not only those called the Contras (counterrevolutionaries), in Nicaragua but also, according to journalists on the scene, Israeli and South Korean combat units in several Central American countries.

11. A secret Department of Defense reportImproper Material in Spanish-Language Intelligence Manuals (10 March 1992)—written for then Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. warned that ‘U.S. Army intelligence manuals that incorporated the earlier work of the CIA for training Latin American military officers in interrogation and counterintelligence techniques contained ‘offensive and objectionable material’ that ‘undermines U.S. credibility, and could result in significant embarrassment.’" From The National Security Archive document “Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past,”
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/
NSAEBB122/ index.htm#dod1992
.

According the Archive, the Carter administration had halted the counterintelligence training programs at the U.S. School of the Americas, then in Panama, but the program, including the use of the same manuals, was reinstated by President Reagan in 1982 and was in use for the next nine years, until Cheney accepted the recommendations contained in Improper Material. A further CIA manual dated July 1963, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation (KUBARK is simply the CIA itself), is a guide for obtaining information from so-called resistant sources; it outlines techniques that have become all too familiar from the revelations about the present campaigns.

It has reliably been alleged that French torturers, veterans of the unspeakable Algerian War of the early 1960s, trained South Americans in their techniques, including an emphasis on the physical humiliation, that has now become a feature of U.S. methods in the Arab world.

12. Vilified in the Allied press, by legal authorities in the postwar Nuremberg trials, and in a floodtide of popular postwar movies.

13. Jane Mayer, “The Black Sites: A Rare Look Inside the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation Program,” New Yorker, August 13, 2007, pp. 46-57.

14. The phrase, which is an invitation to malefactors to provide an excuse to be shot and killed, was featured in Sudden Impact (1983), a popular movie in the Dirty Harry vengeance-driven police cycle featuring the right wing actor Clint Eastwood. Reagan picked up the phrase soon afterward.

15. Earlier, in the 1970s, the more overtly sex-oriented and whites-only advertisements had largely disappeared, in tune with the public sentiments reinforcing the social movements of the day.

16. Very soon after, with the improvement of character generation and of broadcast-quality macro lenses, these effects would become a regular feature of advertisements, a development that undercuts how present-day audiences see this portion of this work.

17. And increasingly they are contract laborers, such as the interrogators furnished by the determinedly secretive, 1.6 billion-dollar firm CACI, implicated by name in some of the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Mercenaries from various countries and other contractors make up about half of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere.

"’It's insanity," said Robert Baer, a former CIA agent… concerned about the private contractors' free-ranging role. ‘These are rank amateurs and there is no legally binding law on these guys as far as I could tell. …’ The Pentagon had no comment on the role of contractors at Abu Ghraib....”
— Julian Borger, “U.S. military in torture scandal: Use of private contractors in Iraqi jail interrogations highlighted by inquiry into abuse of prisoners,” The Guardian, April 30, 2004.

The report on the Abu Ghraib abuses by U.S. General Antonio Taguba claims that Steven Stephanowicz had encouraged MPs [Military Police] under his command to terrorize inmates, and "clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse."


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