Friday, November 11, 2005

Bush and Torture

Bush recently asserted "We do not torture." A number of people have stepped up to both challenge him about Cheney's consistent lobbying for torture exceptions for the CIA and to, yet once again, loudly trumpet how he is soiling the standards of this once great land. Maybe it is just me, but I haven't noticed that many mentions of Abu Ghraib (though a quick check on Google News reveals over two hundred stories with the terms: bush, panama, "we do not torture," and "Abu Ghraib," so maybe that's just me). Nonetheless, even with Abu Ghraib being mentioned, no one has stepped back and said "shouldn't he have maybe waited to make this comment until he got back to the states and not done it in Panama?"

But Bush doesn't have to worry about the Panama context being mentioned. Panama, where this author's mother was born and where the United States originally had the School Of Americas, knows about American torture. American torture didn't begin with 43 W. It didn't begin with his father, or his father's boss. The School of Americas was founded in the 1940s in Panama and moved to Fort Benning in Georgia. You don't have to spend ten minutes researching the School of Americas to come across one clear fact: The United States government does more than torture; The United States tests, designs, and instructs torturers. Homeless Panamanians disappeared off the streets when the School of Americas was there and their corpses would later be found subjected to extreme torture. Everyone knew what was happening. Retired Major Joe Blair said on the Jim Lehrer Newshour: "I have personal knowledge that the School of the Americas, while I was there for three years, taught two intelligence interrogation courses, which taught the U.S. Army position that it was appropriate to use physical abuse when interrogating anyone in their country, to also use false imprisonment, false arrest, and kidnapping of family members." In Panama, where the U.S. government trained torturers for four decades, Bush asserts "we do not torture."

American torture did not begin with Bush nor did it cease with Kennedy, Carter, or Clinton. It is part of the system. Why would anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the American military's long history of high altitude aerial bombardment on civilian populations doubt for a second that this government, past and present, tortures? Have we forgotten what Napalm does to people? Why do we think that the planners of war would order huge stocks of napalm and antipersonnel bombs and then instruct their soldiers on the ground to respect their prisoners' rights?

The danger is that people will associate torture with the Bush administration. Which is good to get rid of Bush, but it absolves the sinners of the past, gives the next guy a free pass, and eschews a critical understanding of the government's systemic use of violence for a charicaturing politics of amnesia. People need to know their history.

My apologies for this being a few days late. I know that is the equivalent of a hundred news cycles in the "blogosphere," but it is still deserving of this response.


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