Last week the Obama administration won its legal fight to keep secret any government misconduct it wants by declaring the matter a "state secret." The allegations that it was hiding in this instance are already public knowledge, that the Bush administration flew prisoners around the world to be tortured. The tortured men wanted to sue the private company that delivered them to be tormented. Even such a mainstream publication as the New York Times labeled this seizure of unreviewable executive power to muzzle known facts a very bad precedent.
It's true; we do learn more and more about what has been done in our name despite any legal obstacles. Lots of people were involved in the American torture regime, many of them quite ordinary soldiers who "just followed orders." They have told their stories, many privately and a few very publicly. Some are struggling with the moral dissonance they've brought back from their experience, the horror of striving to do right and feeling they've done very wrong.
Justine Sharrock reports the experiences of four such individuals in Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things. It's a terrible indictment of what the U.S. military (and our spooks) are doing that Presidents of both political parties have seized the authority to keep such stories out of the courts .
From Sharrock's book, here are some bits of one such story. Brandon Neely who was among the first contingent of soldiers unloading the first set of prisoners at Guantanamo, remembers that day.
The memory still haunts him.
Chris Arendt was an unlikely and not very willing soldier who found himself at Guantanamo years later. He had joined the National Guard because
He never quite fit, never thought much of the wars, never stopped feeling "a wimp," but found others like him and tried to keep his head down. Then, one day, as Chris was just doing his job ...
Because Chris Arendt became involved with Iraq Vets Against the War, he took this story of abusing a detainee to the public. This didn't much help him sort out his feelings, but it plunged him into a complicated vortex of recrimination with the guys who had been his soldier friends -- was he condemning all of them? Eventually Moazzam Begg, a released (cleared) prisoner now organizing against torture, invited Arendt to join him in speaking tour in the United Kingdom. Arendt was surprised to find that in speaking with former detainees he felt "a strangely intimate relationship." (The words quoted are Sharrock's language.)
U.S. panic about "security" and our aggressive wars have done strange and evil things over the last nine years. This book is sometimes a little over-preachy; Sharrock might have been a more convincing story teller if she'd let these former soldiers speak more for themselves in all their anguish and ambivalence. But these interviews and discussions with former soldiers, their families and their disconcerted communities are a huge contribution to understanding who we've become since 9/11.