Monday, May 18, 2009

We didn't all have to be taught to torture

Metro Detention Center, Brooklyn

This morning came news of a Supreme Court decision that a Pakistani who charges he was imprisoned, beaten, and abused in New York after 9/11 cannot sue the former U.S. attorney general and the FBI director. He complained that he

was kept in solitary confinement at the center, denied medical care and subjected to daily body-cavity searches, beatings and extreme temperatures. He said that he had been called a terrorist and a “Muslim killer” and that he had lost 40 pounds during six months in the special unit.

There's lots of reason to believe Javaid Iqbal was abused. In June 2003, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine testified about his investigation of detentions of suspected immigrants before a Judiciary Committee hearing:

... we concluded that the evidence indicates a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some correctional officers at the MDC [Metropolitan Detention Center] against some September 11 detainees, particularly during the first months after the attacks and during intake and movement of prisoners. This generally consisted of slamming some detainees into walls; dragging them by their arms; stepping on the chain between their ankle cuffs; twisting their arms, hands, wrists, and fingers; and making slurs and threats such as "you will feel pain" and "you're going to die here."

Several thousand immigrant men, mostly Arabs or Pakistani, were drawn into a mad vortex of suspicion in the months immediately after 9/11 -- from the point of view of their communities, they were simply disappeared.

Obsidian Wings links to a 2004 New York Times story by that excellent reporter of all matters related to immigration, Nina Bernstein, that lays out Iqbal's charges. Tram Nguyen's We Are All Suspects Now recounts a string of stories of abuse and intimidation mostly directed at Muslim and South Asian immigrants in the first years after 9/11. Since then, immigration authorities now under the Department of "Homeland Security" frequently replicate some of this conduct.

It seems important to be reminded of all this as the country focuses on the overt enthusiasm for torture of foreign captives that apparently emanated from Dick Cheney's office. Cheney wanted (false) evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. His band of hack lawyers made up an antiseptic maze of convoluted justifications for conduct that was quite obviously illegal as well as immoral. But their bizarre justifications couldn't contain what they set loose. Their "techniques" then leaked out to wherever the U.S. military pursued its "war on terror." Pretty soon the "techniques" were being used brutally in dark jails in Afghanistan and in holding pens in Iraq.

But as the Iqbal case and those of the 2001 immigrant detainees show, abuse of prisoners labeled terrorists was part of U.S. reaction to being attacked from the day after 9/11. We'd been hit and somebody had to pay. We wanted vengeance. Just a month ago we learned that "walling" became a "technique" used on the objects of the Cheney torture program -- but apparently ordinary prison guards in New York City in 2001 immediately employed a variant of it on their immigrant prisoners. The potential violence endemic in U.S. prisons was loosed.

Cheney et al. melded that covert but also conventional institutional abuse with a generalized injured assurance of U.S. rectitude to overcome some of the ordinary barriers to adopting the behavior of authoritarian regimes. They played the country's emotional dark side like the virtuoso abusers they chose to be.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

The most lasting and devastating result of the lawless Bush administration is the two right wing conservatives he foisted on us in the Supreme Court appointments. Allito and Roberts have joined with the two ideologues already there to hand down some bizarre rulings.

Unfortunately, they are all young by Supreme Court standards and will continue to harm our country for years and women and minorities will continue to suffer unfair laws under their decisions.

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