We have an unprecedented capacity to absorb scandals. Wikileaks or no, Americans wake up each day to a new set of outrages, yet nothing changes. With hundreds of channels at our fingertip and a billion songs sloshing in our skulls, no crime against country, man or earth can linger long enough in any brain cell to matter. All synapses are currently busy with bullshit, yet again, thank you.
There have always been enough incriminating evidences to fill several Pentagons and CIA headquarters. It takes no dick or hacker to know that the U.S. government is duplicitous and sadistic. It lies and kills compulsively. Though hardly alone, America's unique in her reach and influence. As an empire, our sick tendencies become everybody else's problems. Without our "leadership," would Poles and Ukrainians kill and be killed in Iraq? Would Germans patrol Afghanistan? Would Georgia pick a fight with Russia, only to have its ass kicked? We don't just commit evils, we train many others to do it. We graduated thousands of torturers from The School of the Americas. After some bad press, it was niftily re-christened 'The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation'. (Similarly, Blackwater is now Xe.) Our tactics haven't changed, and waterboarding, openly admitted to by our cynically sinister capos, is the very least of it. No criminal confesses to everything. "Ah, I only do some shoplifting on the side, Your Honor. No beating or rape or nothing."
Our elected leaders, our bald, shiny faces to the rest of the world, are shameless hypocrites. During the Georgia-Russia conflict, George Bush was indignant that Russia had "invaded a sovereign neighboring state," while John McCain declared, "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations."
Was March 20th, 2003 in the 21st century? I'm not talking about March Madness, of course, but the start of our invasion of Iraq. Sated with college hoops, Americans could switch channel for some cool, live snuff action. Soon after, George W. Bush announced at the Boeing F-18 Production Facility in St. Louis, "Two weeks ago, the Iraqi regime operated a gulag for dissidents, and incredibly enough, a prison for young children. Now the gates to that prison have been thrown wide open, and we are putting the dictators, political prisons, and torture chambers out of business." (Applause.) A mere year later, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, revealing America to be in charge of Saddam's torture chambers.
Not so incredibly, we also imprisoned children in Abu Ghraib. Its commander, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, spoke of visiting the youngest inmates, including a boy who "looked like he was 8-years-old." Maybe this kid was just undersized from all those years of economic sanctions? Maybe he was actually 11 or 12? By 2008, the Pentagon would admit to jailing 600 Iraqi juveniles. From a supposedly feel-good story in Stars and Stripes: "The U.S. military in Iraq is holding some 600 juvenile detainees - ranging in age from 11 to 17 - and is building educational programs to address their special needs."
In any case, no evidence could be more damning than what happened at Abu Ghraib, yet there were no consequences, really. We went on with our occupation, which has continued to this day, and only one officer was ever court-martialed. The conviction of Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan was even overturned, resulting in merely an "administrative reprimand" on his record. Torture, American style, is an administrative procedure.
The photos themselves often show our troops casually moving about in the background. It was business as usual to punch, slap and kick prisoners; to jump on their naked feet; to videotape and photograph naked male and female prisoners; to forcibly arrange prisoners in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; to force prisoners to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time; to force naked male prisoners to wear women's underwear; to force groups of male prisoners to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped; to arrange naked male prisoners in a pile and then jumping on them; to position a naked prisoner on a box, with a sandbag on his head, and attach wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture.
On and on the various means for inflicting pain and humiliation on helpless human beings. Oh, the casual or gleeful sadism, often sexual, of our conquering heroes! These all-American men and women will go home, marry, raise children and become realtors, policemen, accountants and teachers. We freak out when a sexual predator moves into the neighborhood, but how many honorably discharged and decorated torturers and mass murderers are chummying up among us?
"Dad, what did you do in the Iraq?"
"Oh, nothing much, I broke chemical lights and poured the phosphoric liquid on prisoners; beat prisoners with a broom handle and a chair; threatened male prisoners with rape; sodomized a prisoner with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick. Now, what would you like for Christmas, Son?"
General Antonio M. Taguba's list of Abu Ghraib abuses, summarized above, was leaked to the press by an unknown source. Though not a whistleblower per se, Taguba did not flinch from accusing his own comrades, and he didn't scapegoat but pointed his finger at the very top. In 2008, Taguba wrote: "After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
For showing courage and integrity, Taguba was forced into retirement, but Bradley Manning, a mere private, is already paying a much heavier price for exposing yet more crimes by the U.S. Army. Kept in solitary confinement for seven months now, Manning faces up to 52 years in prison, with many, including Congressman Mike Rogers, calling for his execution.
Manning's physical and psychological conditions are deteriorating rapidly. He turned 23 just yesterday. Friends who have visited Manning in prison are being intimidated by our government from speaking out, according to the Guardian. People are being stalked, computers seized without warrants. A staple of Fascism, extra-judicial harassment should never be tolerated in any genuinely free society.
So after decades of appalling disclosures by human rights organizations, the media and even the government itself, nothing has changed. We have enough evidence to convict just about everybody and everything inside that Beltway, save a potted plant or two, perhaps, so what's missing is not more information, but an ability to deduce and to synthesize, that is, to think, and, even more importantly, some semblance of moral clarity.
The same scene that outrages one person will titillate another. To a Nazi, photos of Dachau and Bruchenwald are a turn on. Atrocity and torture images also confirm the status quo, since they illustrate most vividly who has the power, who can do what to whom, who can be stripped naked, bloodied and blown to bits.
Susan Sontag rightly compared the Abu Ghraib images to trophies. Proud of our bloody trophies, and not just photos but ears, fingers and whatnot, many Americans still subscribe to our full spectrum domination, ass-kicking aspirations, so protests or no, Wikileaks or no, the American Empire will not be shamed or persuaded into changing its ways. It will not reform itself. Cornered, it's likely to become even more vicious. Evil will bare its fangs most nakedly.
Obey orders and torture and the worst that can happen to you is an administrative reprimand, whatever that means, but if you follow your conscience, be prepared to be locked up, tortured or even killed. It's already in the book.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a just released novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.