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Eeets Not a Gulag!!

Joe told me he made a deliberate effort to stop reading political blogs, and I said that I never really did bother to read political blogs, because they generally don’t go past provoking self-righteous outrage at the other side, and since about 2003 or so I have definitely had “outrage fatigue.”

But that doesn’t mean I still don’t pay attention, and that doesn’t mean that I am ignorant of the outrages. I get a trickle of the worst, usually from The New Yorker, and that’s when I feel compelled to re-tell the stories of the greatest outrage.

Amnesty International recently referred to Guantanamo and other prisons like it as “the gulag of our times” or words to that effect, and the Bush Administration and conservatives flipped out over that . . . (that outrage!) because really, our suspending the Geneva Conventions and inprisoning a classified number of people throughout the world based on classified intelligence without ever charging them with a crime is nothing at all like the Soviet gulag, where millions of Stalin’s own citizens were worked to their deaths.

And you know, they have a point, or maybe I was daydreaming about something else when I read the chapter in “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” that was similar to this passage, from Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker, May 30, 2005:

The worst of these horrors are typified by some that came to light just last Friday, in an extraordinary report by Tim Golden, in the Times, about the routine use of torture at Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan, in 2002. The most heartrending passages of Golden’s story, which was drawn from a two-thousand-page confidential Army file provided by an anonymous source, described the death by torture of a slight, shy, illiterate young Afghan villager who was shackled by the wrists to the wire ceiling of his cell for days, struck more than a hundred times in one day for the amusement of captors who found his agonized screams of “Allah!” funny, and beaten on the legs until the tissue, in a coroner’s words, “had basically been pulpified.” By the time he died, most of his interrogators had concluded that he was guiltless. In common with the Abu Ghraib case and others, only a few lower-ranking officers and (especially) enlisted soldiers have been disciplined in connection with this and other abuses at Bagram.

The indulgence of this sort of depravity goes to, and comes from, the top. President Bush pushed aside the Geneva Conventions. A memo prepared on the order of his White House counsel, now Attorney General, suggested limiting the definition of torture to acts that bring on “organ failure.” And his Secretary of Defense personally authorized “interrogation techniques,” such as the use of dogs and forced nudity, that were expressly designed to outrage the religious customs of detainees. It was a short step from that to fake menstrual blood, sexual humiliation, the abuse of the Koran–other instances of which had been reported long before the current one. Nobody in a position of real authority has ever been held accountable for any of it. Against this background, words like “hypocritical” and “cynical” are inadequate to describe the White House campaign to demonize Newsweek. “Nauseating” is more like it.

The War on Terror is not something between nations. Afghanistan did not attack us, Iraq did not attack us, it was people who were outraged at us who attacked us. Our greatest weapon in this war is our courage to fight for our moral principles. Every innocent jailed or tortured, every family that loses somebody at our hands, is a battle lost in this war. And this is the outrage I carry every day, deep in my heart. I wish fervently for change.

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Categories: Excerpts, Politics, Testimonials