Monday, May 02, 2005

Don't You Like These Big American Breasts

Oh, the inhumanity! Cry torture! Or just be disgusted that the media circus around Guantanamo Bay continues to try and paint the Americans as the enemy and terrorists as oppressed, badly treated innocents. F**k but this enrages me!

Here's the story- a former Army translator at Gitmo has- surprise, surprise- written a book about his experiences. Of particular note is his tale of a female interrogator questioning a terrorist who had received fight training- remember 9/11? The interrogator unbuttoned her shirt to reveal *gasp* a T-shirt, and she then touched her breasts and uttered the classic line- "don't you like these big American breasts?". Now, I've never been interrogated, or even tortured, but what's being described here is as far removed from my idea of torture as you can possibly go. In fact, I'm sure many people would pay good money to see a woman touch her breasts right in front of them.

But wait, it gets worse- she later unbuttoned her trousers and put her hand down them! I know this probably makes for hard reading, hearing the unbearable horrors that have been perpetuated against these poor defenceless terrorists, but bear with me. As she circled around the terrorist, who could have been planning on murdering another 3,000 innocent people, she pulled her hand out and it was red, covered in- brace yourselves- ink. She told the prisoner- "I'm actually menstruating right now, and I'm touching you. Does that please your God? Does that please Allah?" To add insult to injury she then wiped the red ink on his face, saying, "How do you like that?" My God, it's horrific, isn't it? To think that a man, captured on the battlefield fighting and trying to kill American soldiers could be treated like this? Well, the translator went to bed that night feeling, and I quote, "dirty and disgusting".

I wonder if these absolutely barbaric "torture" activities are known to the enemy we're fighting? I mean they only brutally murder their captured prisoners, sawing their heads off on video while they scream "Allahu akbar". Perhaps if they knew what was happening at Guantanamo Bay, where some prisoners were kept in stress positions for up to 24 hours at a time, were some even had their thumbs bent back, were one poor terrorist even had- I can barely write it- duct tape wrapped around his head, they too would change their tactics. I mean, cutting a man's head off with a small knife can't even compare to putting tape around his head can it?

The author of this catalogue of "atrocities"- you just know that's the term the media is going to use to describe this- goes on to say that out of the 600-odd prisoners there, he "thought" only a few dozen were dangerous. This must be the same few dozen that threatened to kill the guards before they left, or is it the same few dozen that have been released and have gone back to fighting against American troops in Afghanistan? He's not too clear on this point, but I guess that if he gave any indication that the men at Guantanamo were in fact dangerous terrorists out to destroy the United States and that they were being treated more than fairly, his book might not sell so well to the usual crowd of America-haters.


Patient Voice of Reason said...

First, let's get through the most ridiculous part of your argument: that something's not torture unless you'd personally consider it torture ("I'm sure many people would pay good money to see a woman touch her breasts"). That's intellectually dishonest, because you know that her technique was designed to horrify a devout Muslim and strike directly at his religious and cultural identity. You may say (1) that's fine in all circumstances, to which I'd say that you're probably on the opposite side from 95% of the thinking world on the issue; (2) that's fine in the circumstance of this particular religous and cultural identity, which marks you as a racist; or (3) that's fine because I believe the interrogation subjects are murderous terrorists and therefore can have no claim to any religious or cultural respect, which leads us to the second part of your argument:

You imply that questionable tactics are OK for the "good guys" because the enemy does much worse ("I wonder if these absolutely barbaric 'torture' activities are known to the enemy we're fighting?"). Legal and moral standards for interrogation should apply in all conflicts and for all detainees, whether a nun, a possible collaborator, a likely terrorist or Osama bin Laden himself. Ultimately, the standard of behavior should be: Would you consider the technique appropriate for an enemy to use on one of your soldiers? Another's barbarous acts cannot be used as an excuse to lower our own standards. I believe the definition of surrender is allowing your enemy to dictate your behavior.

One final note: I believe that many supporters of this war and how it's being waged are secretly thankful for 9/11, because it gave you the chance to advocate for xenophobic slaughter, which you've probably always longed for, without the pesky moral constraints of living in an "advanced" society.

Jay.Mac said...

First off, I'm astounded that you think that any supporters of the War on Terror wanted 9/11 to happen in any way, shape or form. Do you REALLY think that? Also, it's not about "xenophobic slaughter" and I'm sure that the 25 million people liberated from tyranny and able to vote for the first time in years would not agree either. If that's what it was about then Allied troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would not have taken such care to minimise casualties. Fallujah for example would have been carpet bombed to ashes if that was the aim. Instead citizens were advised for days in advance to flee the city and then American troops entered the city to clear it out, with massive risk to their own lives.
Second, would I be happy to see these techniques used by the enemy on captured troops? The answer is yes, stress positions are not torture and nor is provocative behaviour by an interrogator. Trying to break someone to obtain information which might prevent the deaths of more troops and/or civilians is entirely acceptable. This type of questioning is not the same as a police/FBI interrogation. These are foreign combatants captured in the process of trying to kill Allied troops and they do not have the same rights which a citizen of America or Britain is entitled to if they had broken a law in that country. This is not a civil matter, it's a military one.
As for horrifying a devout Muslim, well horrifying them in order to lower their resistance to concealing information of course is acceptable. Why on Earth wouldn't it be? Are we to worry so much about upsetting an enemy combatant's sensibilities? The key term here of course is combatant- when nuns start blowing people up and shooting at troops, then sure I'd advocate "horrifying" their devout beliefs in order to prevent more deaths. The key argunment here is what's more important- making an enemy feel comfortable or trying to prevent further deaths? Being politically correct and not wanting to upset someone is not going to make them give up vital intelligence.
I don't think it's intellectually dishonest to not consider this torture- torture would be a prisoner being savagely beaten, having his fingers cut off, being blinded, having his bones broken, seeing his family assaulted and perhaps murderd in front of him- the sorts of thing that routinely happened in Saddam Hussein's prisons are considered torture. Dabbing ink of someone's face is quite obviously NOT torture.
Army recruits are routinely put in stress positions during basic training- getting down and holding a press up position for a few minutes might be uncomfortable but it's not torture. Perhaps you'd prefer we sat them down with a cup of tea for a nice chat? Is that going to work?
How exactly do YOU define torture?

patient voice of (usually) reason said...

Alright, I admit, "xenophobic slaughter" was over the top. But I do feel that war supporters often exhibit a gleeful "gloves are off" mentality, tripping over themselves to explain how 9/11 made it OK to abdicate standards of conduct (military as well as civil) that have served well for many decades in our society (and I realize that mentioning "our society" is tricky because I'm in the U.S. and you're not).

Re: my definition of torture, since you seem to have identified our prisoners as enemy combatants (that definition seems to flip-flop among war hawks as well, depending on circumstance), the Geneva Convention still works for me: "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." Call me what you will, but I believe this is a worthy standard.

Finally, here's an important distinction I want to make clear: My concern is not for "making an enemy feel comfortable" - the actual person sitting in the chair, if he or she is an actual murderous terrorist, does not have my sympathy. But the point of trying to have a decent, democratic society is setting standards for our actions towards ALL people and sticking to them. There will be other chairs, and someday you might be sitting in one, and I'll assume you'll think you don't deserve to be sitting there, and you'll want all the protection of law, custom and decency that your society has promised.

Jay.Mac said...

Hi and welcome back, Patient Voice of Reason. I began writing a reply to your comments- thanks for responding, btw, but I wrote so much that I figured that it would be better to put it up as a proper post rather than a comment as it takes in not just the treatment of detainees but also the War on Terror too. I hope you'll read it and comment there as I am interested in your point of view. The post is called "Thinking about the war on terror".