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A Dispatch From Bizarro World

A place populated by people who measure themselves, ethically, by the highest ideals and not by the barbarous behavior of their enemies, i.e. "at least we don't behead people."
 
 
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Calling all earthlings. Sean, here, sending a dispatch from Bizarro World.

(Bizarro World – that other planet in the galaxy where it is recognized that frequent and constant use of military might to suppress insurgency is a sign of weakness, not strength; where torture is morally and intellectually indefensible; a place populated by people who measure themselves, ethically, by the highest ideals and not by the barbarous behavior of their enemies, i.e. "at least we don't behead people").

In 1963, a CIA manual surfaced entitled "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation." In it, there was a chapter called "The Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources."

(KUBARK is a CIA code name. You can check out the manual here).

The manual explains how coercive methods are "designed to induce regression ... Control of the source's environment permits the interrogator to determine his diet, sleep pattern and other fundamentals."

How do you induce regression? By producing within the detainee feelings of shame and guilt. Here's the key, as explained by the manual: "If the 'questioner' can intensify these guilt feelings, it will increase the subject's anxiety and his urge to cooperate as a means of escape."

In Bizarro World, where I live, those guidelines are chilling. On earth, such practices are glibly rationalized with such phrases as "Hey, war is hell."

Were these not the ideas undergirding what was going on in Abu Ghraib? Or was it simply the work of rogue sadists or "a few bad apples?"

For an excellent in-depth analysis of this, get yourself a copy of Mark Danner's book, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror .

The chapter, "The Logic of Torture," is particularly compelling. In it, he discusses how Marines are trained in cultural sensitivity, quoting from a military pamphlet given to Marines in the fall of 2003.

"Do not shame or humiliate a man in public. Shaming a man will cause him and his family to be anti-Coalition. The most important qualifier for all shame is for a third party to witness the act. ... Shame is given by placing hoods over a detainee's head. Avoid this practice. Placing a detainee on the ground or putting a foot on him implies you are God. This is one of the worst things we can do."

Danner points out that in Abu Ghraib, "these precepts ... are turned precisely on their heads by interrogators at Abu Ghraib and other American bases."

And then he connects the dots between the torture manuals and Abu Ghraib.

"If, as the manuals suggest, the road to effective interrogation lay in 'intensifying guilt feelings,' and with them 'the subject's anxiety and his urge to cooperate as a means of escape,' then the bizarre epics of abuse coming out Abu Ghraib begin to come into focus, slowly revolving from what seems a senseless litany of sadism and brutality to a series of actions that, however abhorrent, conceal within them a certain recognizable logic."

Of course, those soldiers who were court martialed and claimed to be acting under orders have a motive in saying so. But is it plausible that a few poorly trained rogues spontaneously thought of these methods, which happen to coincide with established interrogation practices, as the apologists would have us believe?

Besides, as Danner observes, you don't have to rely on their claims to see what's going on. There are the words of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller who, according to the Taguba report, reviewed "current Iraqi Theater ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence."

You've got the words of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, whose Oct. 12 memo instructed intelligence officers to work closely with military policemen to "manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses."

"The internal evidence – the awful details of the abuse itself and the clear logical narrative they take on when set against what we know of the interrogation methods of the American military and intelligence agencies – is quite enough to show that what happened at Abu Ghraib, whatever it was, did not depend on the sadistic ingenuity of a few bad apples. This is what we know. The real question, now, as so often, is not that we know but what are we prepared to do," Danner writes.

Apparently, we are prepared to sit by and watch the confirmation of Bush's attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales, a key player in the Bush administration's attempt to re-write the Geneva Conventions.

Sean, from Bizarro World, signing off.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.