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‘Civilized’ Nation Can’t Justify Torture

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‘Civilized’ Nation Can’t Justify Torture

Guantanamo, Obama

Meantime, back at Guantanamo …

Chances are you haven’t thought of that American gulag — or, for that matter, of “extraordinary renditions,” CIA black sites and torture — for a long time.

Not everyone has the luxury of forgetting. In the past few days, some compelling reportage has reminded us of that.

In the Miami Herald, we met 48-year-old Mustafa al Hawsawi, a Gitmo detainee who was scheduled for rectal surgery to repair damage done when, his lawyer says, he was sodomized by his captors 10 years ago. As reporter Carol Rosenberg explains, this “sodomy” was, in fact, a “quasi medical” process of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal re-feeding,” i.e., providing nourishment through a tube in the rectum.

The lawyer says this was a means of punishment. It left Hawsawi with what’s called a rectal prolapse. He has to manually push tissue back up into his anus every time he defecates. He has bled from the injury for 10 years.

Hawsawi, you should know, faces the death penalty for his alleged part in the Sept. 11 attacks that took nearly 3,000 lives. And maybe you will find that sufficient to insulate you from feeling, well, anything at his plight.

One wonders what you would make, then, of two New York Times reports documenting how torture, both at Gitmo and at CIA black sites around the world, destroyed the mental health of numerous detainees, many of whom turned out to be innocent of terrorism. Reporters James Risen, Matt Apuzzo and Sheri Fink introduce us to men who were slammed into walls and had foreign objects shoved into their rectums, who were beaten, kept awake, housed in never-ending darkness or light, forced into stress positions, subjected to nonstop music at ear-splitting levels, injected with drugs, menaced by dogs, locked in boxes the size of coffins and laid out shackled and nude on tarps as gallons of ice cold water were poured down on them to simulate drowning. One prisoner described being used as a human mop, dragged through his own urine.

Now, former prisoner Suleiman Abdullah Salim struggles with depression and PTSD. He was released five years after he fell into U.S. custody when it was determined he posed no threat.

Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi will fly into a rage at the sound of music from a passing car. It takes him back to the prison where music was used to torture him.

Hussein al-Marfadi has a permanent headache. Lutfi bin Ali has a recurrent nightmare of suffocating at the bottom of a well. Younous Chekkouri hates to go outside because people in the crowd turn into guards from Gitmo.

For at least one prisoner, what made all this worse is that it was America doing it to him. America, the world champion of human rights. America, the nation of laws.

“It is very, very scary when you are tortured by someone who doesn’t believe in torture,” said Ahmed Errachidi. “You lose faith in everything.” He was released without charges after five years.

Civilization is a word we use for the rules we impose upon ourselves to protect against our most brutish instincts. And America is fond of thinking itself the most civilized of nations, especially as compared with those countries that breathe terror like air.

When the history of this epoch is written, it will tell how our civilization, our righteousness, came under assault by an army of ragtag barbarians one sparkling September morning. It will tell how we swore to defend all that made us what we were.

But these reports remind us how readily we gave it all away.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail atlpitts@miamiherald.com.

Photo The front gate of Camp Delta is shown at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this September 4, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/Files

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Dominick Vila October 18, 2016

    As much damage as Donald Trump’s rhetoric and behavior has caused to our credibility as a champion of freedom and democracy, it pales by comparison to the damage caused by the use of torture against people who were often arrested based on false claims made by opportunists, or because they were defending the sovereignty of their homeland.
    It will probably take a generation before people forget the hypocrisy of our claims in the face of such devastating evidence…including the existence of the Gitmo Gulag.

    1. TZToronto October 18, 2016

      We’re seeing the right’s fear of elections, as voiced by Donald Trump. With the Guantanamo prisoners, we see the right’s fear of the American judicial system. Trials in US courts are feared because the accused might actually be able to retain counsel that would provide a strong defence and, possibly, demonstrate the bogus nature of the Gitmo imprisonments.

      1. Dominick Vila October 18, 2016

        That fear, and a desire for revenge against anyone remotely linked to those that carried out the 9/11 attacks, is the reason so many fellow Americans opposed the transfer of Gitmo prisoners to maximum security prisons in the USA, and the eventual closure of the Gitmo concentration camp.

        1. idamag October 19, 2016

          And if the American people weren’t so cowardly, they would not have followed this train of thought. We teach fear and wonder why our nation is going nuts.

        2. dtgraham October 19, 2016

          When you consider both 9/11 and the sheer number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since, maybe it’s understandable in a way. Hopefully, Lincoln’s homily to the better angels of our nature will eventually win out.

      2. dtgraham October 19, 2016

        I’m wondering if you have been following the recent renewal of the case of Ronald Allen Smith. That’s the Canadian who’s on Montana’s death row. The Trudeau Liberals have been in negotiations with Montana over him. They want to bring him back home even though he admitted to his murder in a plea deal, although there’s supposed to be some question to his guilt supposedly. It’s just a matter of the death penalty, which is unacceptable in Canada.

        1. TZToronto October 19, 2016

          I guess I’m not on the distribution list. I wasn’t aware of this case. Of course, we’ve seen many cases in recent years in which people, even those who have confessed (under duress) to crimes, have been exonerated based on DNA evidence. While I’m not saying that Smith is innocent, the death penalty doesn’t allow for mistakes or misfeasance in prosecution–and we’ve seen plenty of both in the US and Canadian cases. The death penalty (Let’s end this quickly) is another manifestation of fear that permeates American society–fear of those with a “different” appearance, fear of those with a “different” religion, fear of allowing those with “different” ideas to express those ideas, and even fear of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. While there are undoubtedly many Canadians who harbour these same fears, Canadian society tends to take a wait-and-see attitude about these things rather than the American attitude of “different is bad.” Donald Trump is simply the embodiment of American fear–in the home of the brave [sic].

          1. dtgraham October 19, 2016

            I think America is almost there on the death penalty. Companies and countries around the world will no longer sell the proper chemicals needed for lethal injection, to the various states who still practice capital punishment, and painful or gruesome executions don’t seem to be something that Americans will tolerate. So, it may be on it’s last legs.

      3. Daniel Jones October 19, 2016

        They are not the Right-wing. I have decided.

        They are the Wrong. I will refer to them as such, from now on.

        1. idamag October 19, 2016

          Certainly right does not describe them.

          1. dpaano October 19, 2016

            They haven’t been “right” in years!!!

    2. idamag October 19, 2016

      As long as no trials are held, Guantanamo is possible full of many innocent people. Dick Cheney was evil incarnate.

      1. latebloomingrandma October 19, 2016

        And yet, where was the outrage and numerous hearings?

  2. Thoughtopsy October 18, 2016

    Torture is a terrible stain on the USA.

    America itself admitted both the fact it tortured them, how they tortured them, and that, in many cases, they were innocent.
    … And keep in mind that that is the best case scenario.
    That’s the information that was allowed to be published.

    I remain stunned that this is not a national shame, agonized over loudly and repeatedly in the press, and in government.

    Instead it seems to be: “Well, that happened” and nothing much changes, no-one is charged. Everyone is excused.

    As a nation you appear to have no idea how low, blind, cowardly and two-faced this makes you appear, internationally.

    1. Daniel Jones October 19, 2016

      Oh, I know.

      Unfortunately, there’s quite a few elected or appointed assholes that simply do not *care*.

      1. idamag October 19, 2016

        When the pictures, from Abu Graib, came out. I wrote to all my (Not really mine, I have none) in horror and outrage. Two of them spoke out against torture in senate and one justified it. As long as we can justify our fascist actions, nothing will change.

    2. latebloomingrandma October 19, 2016

      Torture? So what? Now, e mails——–put her in jail!
      Goes to show what Republicans and us bleeding heart liberals are fixated on. Yet they claim the “values”.

  3. RED October 19, 2016

    Disgusting! Just f’ing disgusting!! I can’t believe I live in such a horrible frigging country run by such horrible people!! And please I don’t wanna hear any Land of the Free or most American are good bs.!! First 40% of Americans, at least are sick Cons, so they’re not “good” at all. Second I could care less whether your neighbor or my neighbor is a nice guy or whatever when we have all set up a system where 1 in 5 kids are hungry and not because we don’t have resources, where an entire city including children was poisoned with lead to save a few bucks for the wealthy, where millions are imprisoned or sometimes they’re just murdered in the street for nothing, where we have the higher prison population of anyone else in the world, where Donald Trump is a contender for President, no it is not a good country!! Oh and I left off the torture of people, the bombing of other nations, the profiteering off selling hi tech ways to kill human beings to other countries. If this is your measure of a good country, you’re as messed up as Tiny Hands Trump!

  4. idamag October 19, 2016

    We are not a civilized nation. I don’t know how many decades will pass before we devolve into Neanderthals.

  5. Thomas Martin October 19, 2016

    Then why do we have to listen to DT? Verbal torture is hell.

  6. Jon October 19, 2016

    During the primaries when Trump was told that certain forms of torture he wanted to engage in were illegal and some were war crimes, his response was that he would change the law to make them legal. It was an early sign of just what a horrific man Trump is and will always be.


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