Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sound familiar?

The Black Shirts of Guantánamo by Jeremy Scahill via

Unfortunately, very little surprising in this article. The US military continues to brutalize prisoners at Gitmo, despite Obama's PR push that pretends we don't torture.

One of the ways we pretend we don't torture is by pretending that this is all something new. Its just a few people out of control. Its just one administration out of control that orders torture. Its just a few people who go too far and abuse prisoners.

The problem is, that's all bull. Here's a portion of Mr. Scahill's piece describing the torture of one Gitmo detainee. He's quoting one of the lawyer's who defends Gitmo prisoners.

"They brought their pepper spray and held him down. They held both of his eyes open and sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his eyes.

"Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks, but he gradually got sight back in one eye.

"He's totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky -- he can't see out of it because he has been blinded by the U.S. in Guantánamo."

The problem is, this sounded sadly familiar. Click on this site to see why. That site has pictures and videos of what Humboldt County (CA) sheriff deputies did to some people who dared to try to protect a forest from people who wanted to clear cut it for profit. This happened back in the 1990's.

From the same website ...

officers forcibly seized the heads of each demonstrator, one by one, and repeatedly inserted cotton swabs saturated with oleoresin capsicum pepper spray onto the eyes of each one.
The deputies held the head of each Headwaters activist and inserted pepper spray into their eyes with cotton swabs. Seconds later, officers sprayed the substance directly into their faces at close range, from a few inches away.
The officers held the heads and swabbed pepper spray around and into the eyes of each the women, one of whom was a sixteen year old girl. After a few minutes they applied a second round of pepper spray swabbing, forcing open the eyelids as shown on the police video. Subsequently, officers applied a full force spray blast to one of the women, plaintiff Terri Slanetz, with the spray nozzle no more than 2" from her eyes.

Remember, several of the guards at Abu Ghraib had experience as US prison guards before going off to do their military reserve duty at Abu Ghraib.

Two of the guards at Abu Ghraib, Ivan L. (Chip) Frederick II and Charles Graner, had careers back home as corrections officers. Graner, whom The New York Times has described as one of "the most feared and loathed of the American guards" at Abu Ghraib, worked at Greene County Prison in Pennsylvania. According to a 1998 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, guards at the Greene facility behaved in ways that eerily anticipate the allegations from Abu Ghraib.

The United States of America tortures. We've done it for years. Our cops have beaten confessions out of prisoners for ages. They still complain that the Supreme Court actually slightly restricted this back in the 60's and 70's. In our foreign policy, we've been associated with torture for ages. Ever since the formation of the CIA after WWII, torture has followed the CIA everywhere they've gone. And it goes back further than that. For instance, read accounts of what the US did in the Phillipines back at the turn of the 20th century. Or read accounts of the Indian wars in this country.

My point is this. If Obama and the Democrats are serious about saying 'We do not torture', they have to do much more than cancel a couple of Bush's executive orders. This noble goal involves changing the entire culture of the United States. If you see the Democrats mounting a major effort to do this, then they are serious in saying that 'we do not torture'.

If all you see is the photo op where they proclaim this noble goal, but then everything continues pretty much as before, then they aren't serious.

What's the difference in how we treat Muslim prisoners and our own citizens? Well, our own citizens can sue in court. They can find a long, brutal, painful legal fight for a decade. And if they are courageous enough to fight that long fight, they can eventually win.

Anne-Marie Cusac has been writing about the abuse in US prisons for years now over at The Progressive magazine. Here's what she wrote after the Abu Ghraib abuse became widely known.

Abu Ghraib, USA
Abu Ghraib, USA
By Anne-Marie Cusac

When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

When I heard that dogs had been used to intimidate and bite at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib, I thought of the training video shown at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas.

When I learned that the male inmates at Abu Ghraib were forced to wear women's underwear, I thought of the Maricopa County jails in Phoenix, Arizona.

And when I saw the photos of the naked bodies restrained in grotesque and clearly uncomfortable positions, I thought of the Utah prison system.

Donald Rumsfeld said of the abuse when he visited Abu Ghraib on May 13, "It doesn't represent American values."

But the images from Iraq looked all too American to me.

I've been reporting on abuse and mistreatment in our nation's jails and prisons for the last eight years. What I have found is widespread disregard for human rights. Sadism, in some locations, is casual and almost routine.

So Mr. Obama, you say 'we don't torture.' Do you mean it?

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