since the images from Abu Ghraib first started
coming out, something about them has been eating
at me, affecting my day-to-day life.
I felt disgust and outrage. But that usually doesn't
leave me feeling depressed. This did.
I've been picking at it for a while, trying to
figure out what bothered me so deeply but at the
same time seemed so hard to face.
you read books about the Third Reich, such as
Shirer's, or see movies such as Spielberg's "Schindler's
List" you become aware of what a nightmarish place
Hitler's Germany was. There's the outlandish,
over the top rallies, the brutal nationalism and
racism. There's the deep corruption, the lack
of law. There's the systemized gulag of murder
and slavery, the death camps, the work camps and
to me, what always made the nightmare real, what
put it at a level and on a scale that I could
immediately feel in my gut, was the behavior of
the guards and the troops. Whether it was a small
group of soldiers, rifles carelessly slung over
shoulders, humiliating an old Jewish man, or brutal,
cold guards promising young women two more weeks
of unendurable life in return for some quick unfeeling
sex, they represented the face of Nazi Germany.
in Treblinka or Abu Ghraib, in the streets of
Paris or the streets of Baghdad, the images are
the same: young, smiling, brutal people in uniform
abusing others for no other reason than the fact
that they can. Psychologists tell us that often
they aren't acting out of hatred or even callousness,
but simply because they are allowed to. No other
reason. No other reason even needed.
I see the grinning gargoyles in American military
uniforms posing gleefully next to humiliated,
hurt, tortured people, playing with their sex
organs and making them display their anuses to
the camera as part of a form of light entertainment,
I see humanity at its lowest and most sickening.
This is what exists at the bottom of the pit.
It is the darkness that lies within each of us,
what we build civilizations and religions and
philosophies to control, escaped.
as I find it pathetic, even contemptible, I understand
why people try to deny the images from Abu Ghraib.
Some, despite overwhelming evidence, deny it ever
happened at all, claiming the photos were faked,
or shot in a porn studio. Others say that it represents
only some isolated incidents, despite admissions
from the Pentagon that investigations into the
matters were already widespread before the story
ever broke, and that it wasn't limited to Abu
Ghraib or even Iraq, but existed in Guantanamo
and in prisons throughout America. There are still
3,000 people locked up, without charges and without
prospects of trials, in Ashcroft's Gulag. I wonder
if they are being tortured, tormented and abused.
course they are. Because the guards can. No other
know, from Ashcroft's testimony before Congress
and even as he flatly refuses to turn over memos,
that orders to mistreat prisoners came right from
the top, from the Oval Office itself. The memo
the moral and Christian Ashcroft didn't want Congress
to see stated that such abuse was torture only
if the inflictor "knows that severe pain will
result from his actions, if causing such harm
is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific
intent even though the defendant did not act in
good faith . . .[A] defendant is guilty of torture
only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting
severe pain or suffering on a person within his
Joe Biden was withering in his contempt and anger
that the administration would write such a thing,
but even there, Biden could come up with no better
reason to condemn the torture than to point out
that it put American troops at risk for retaliation.
Perhaps Biden realized that any evocation of morality
would be lost on Ashcroft, but there was a television
audience of millions who might have liked to have
heard a declaration of principle higher than "because
we might get caught."
Germany, after the war, when the madness of Nazi
Germany was put out and examined, the Germans
did an admirable job of facing the vileness and
atrocities that occurred under Hitler. They took
many steps to try to ensure that something like
the Holocaust would never happen again.
they never could, and never have, addressed the
fact that so many Germans knew what was going
on in their country between 1933 and 1945, and
simply accepted it. Even today, filmmakers and
artists who ask the simple question, "Why did
the German people put up with it? Why did they
cooperate?" are vigorously suppressed in the
name of fighting the sort of censorship the Nazis
worst thing about Abu Ghraib isn't the grinning
goons in American uniforms humiliating their charges;
it isn't the religiously insane nutjob who is
the nation's top law enforcement officer; it isn't
the vacant, vicious little wastrel in the Oval
Office. It isn't the people who blindly deny that
there was torture, or that it was widespread,
or that the leadership knew.
that it mattered.
the number of people who know in their hearts
that the torture was deliberate, calculated, a
part of American policy, and has been used widely.
It's the people who know this, and don't care.
of them even realize that the torture and humiliation
and rape don't produce the results given as a
rationale. It hasn't slowed down al Qaida. It
hasn't scared the Iraqi people into submission.
There's no reason to believe that any useful intelligence
has been gathered; certainly the notable lack
of success of the administration in its unending
"war on terror" is proof of that.
know all this, and they still think "whatever
it takes" is justified.
German people never came to grips with their own
role in Hitler's Germany, and that's why, two
generations later, I don't quite trust Germans,
and why they retain a slight whiff of the charnel
house about them. That's why, even though I was
born seven years after Hitler killed himself,
and the England of my youth was largely rebuilt,
I still pull my head back slightly, defensively,
whenever I hear a German accent.
Americans are reacting to Abu Ghraib, in such
large numbers, with angry bellicosity and the
assertion that it's justified even if there
are no results, even as it smears America throughout
the world is to me the most profoundly depressing
and disheartening thing about the entire Iraqi
isn't the disgraceful guards, or the slouched
thugs of the administration, or even the smirking,
strutting little clown in the White House that
leave me feeling like I'm looking into the abyss
of Nazi morality. It's the well-fed American pig
whose only response to Abu Ghraib is a grunted,
know vhat is in the smoke over the work camps.
What kind of pansy-ass crap is that?"
for the first time in my life, I find myself asking
myself this question:
America still worth it?
Posted: June 17, 2004