By Jill McLaughlin
There is much frenzy and acrimony in the media not seen in the last several years over the torture issue. This was unleashed when the memos authored by the Bush Regime lawyers were recently released to the public. The lengths that these authors went to make “legal” and justify the unthinkable has the media in a whirl. And it doesn’t look like the whirling is going to stop soon. The Pentagon is reportedly going to release more photos of torture. Torture has entered into the
national debate. Was it torture that these lawyers were selling? Should these lawyers, Yoo, Bybee, Haynes, Addington be held accountable? And what about prosecutions for Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld? These are the questions swirling about. Of course some of us have known all along that those at the top were responsible for the war crime of torture and have we have been demanding accountability.
In all the talk of the talking heads there is one thing missing. And that is the victims of this torture. The media has thus far failed to give name, face, or voice to those who suffered unjustly under detention and torture. People who did nothing wrong, but found themselves ensnared in the so called “war on terror”. There are many. And when Obama talks about no prosecutions and the need to be “looking forward” there is no mention of these people and the indescribable pain that they and their families have endured.
I wonder when I hear Mr. Obama if he knows the story of Binyam Mohammed. Struggling with drug abuse and trying to break free of it, Binyam was searching for something to give him stability and meaning. He thought that he could find it in the religion of Islam. And so he went to Afghanistan in search only to find his very life threatened and treated like his life meant nothing. Andy Worthington so eloquently tells the sad and horrific tale of Binyam’s seven year detention and torture.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between the young and troubled Binyam to a young and troubled young American man or woman who joins the U.S. military to find stability and meaning. Yet these young American men and women so often these days find a world of trouble or create a world of trouble in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. They can’t get out of it because anything they do is legitimated or congratulated by the military, the government and loved ones no matter how horrible the things they’ve done.
There is also the story of Dilawar. Dilawar was a 22 year old Afghani man, whose misfortune it would seem lay in the fact that he could not farm. In order for him to earn a living his family bought him a taxi. Dilawar it would drive himself into the hands of militiamen guarding a base used by U.S. troops. These same men turned Dilawar and his 3 passengers over to the U.S. military, insisting that Dilawar and these passengers were responsible for the shelling of this base earlier that day. They were taken to Bagram detention center. Dilawar was dead 5 days later. His legs were literally beaten to a pulp. New York Times Reporter, Tim Golden, in his May 20th 2005 article In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates’ Deaths, tells Dilawar’s story. Golden’s article focuses more on the actions of these guards and less on the how and why they felt they could treat detainees this way. However the full article describes the techniques used by the guards some of which the people now know came from the top.
There are many more stories like Binyam’s and Dilawar’s. And upon hearing them one has to wonder what is going on in the minds of men who say “look forward”. And in all this frenzy the pundits of both major parties have been propped up before the cameras to tell us that we ought to avoid a witch hunt. They are pumping us up by telling us that we would be wasting a lot of time and energy with investigations and prosecutions for people who acted on good faith and that we have bigger problems on our hands. They say, “After all we really have to get this darned ol economy fixed so that you, the working person, can put food on the table, pay the bills, and keep a roof over their heads”.
I’d like to weigh in a couple of things here. We should remind one another where this phrase witch hunt comes from. It comes from the Salem witch trials when women and men were put on trial for allegedly practicing witch craft. It was believed they were responsible for the possession of young women whose sudden bizarre behavior it turns out was not due to possession but ergot poisoning. The analogy of witch hunt therefore is used when innocent people are scapegoated and blamed for the imagined or real ills and wrongs of the world. What the Nazi’s did to the Jews was a witch hunt. What the U.S. has done to hundreds of detainees in the name of national security is a witch hunt. So no, holding Bush Regime lawyers, officials, and Bush and Cheney themselves is not a witch hunt. They are not innocents being blamed for real or imaginary wrongs. They are war criminals responsible for war crimes. Very real crimes outlined in black and white. And as for the economy, that is a real problem and it’s devastating to a lot of people. Devastating to people who are just trying to make it in the world. Yes a lot of us are just trying to make it, trying to get by. But remember Binyam and Dilawar were just trying to make it too.
There are some things in this world that cannot and should not be forgiven. And I’m not suggesting revenge. I’m suggesting justice. I’m suggesting real change. Change is not just simply “looking forward” and forgetting the wrongs and harms done. The powers that be will continue causing harm this way. Change is not simply going to the CIA and telling them to “be scrupulous” and that torture will not be tolerated. Real change is about accountability, restitution, and amends. This is what justice is. It is on us to face the crimes of our government and hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. We must continue to resist living in a torture state and we must demand accountability for war criminals. If we are to bring an end to torture this is what must be done.