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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. "" The steady stream of revelations showing that the United States has been torturing and abusing prisoners around the world as part of the so-called war on terror barely registers with most Americans.
A new batch of videos and photos showing torture and abuse of prisoners in the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is released, and the outrage is more about the release of the images of torture and abuse than about the actual torture and abuse itself.
The New York Times can report on its front page on Sunday that the United States is running a prison at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan that's fast becoming a bigger, badder and bleaker version of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and few seem to care.
This is how desensitized our nation has become. The United States is conducting itself in a way that will ensure that Arabs will hate us for generations to come, and still our leaders press onward, convinced they are spreading freedom and democracy.
The evidence that has accumulated over the past couple of years suggests otherwise. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and the secret U.S.-run gulags scattered around the world are ugly stains on our nation's soul.
There should be outrage, not just in the Arab world, but here in the United States, over the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Torture and abuse cannot be justified under any circumstances, but the White House and the Pentagon keeps trying to. Outrage upon outrage keeps piling up, and they pretend nothing is wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, SBS, the Australian public television network, showed a documentary that featured video footage and 60 previously unpublished photos documenting abuse at Abu Ghraib. These were photos that the U.S. government has been fighting to keep classified in a court case with the American Civil Liberties Union, out of fear that the photos would fuel more anti-American sentiment.
Some of the photos are similar to what we saw in 2004. Others are gruesome beyond description, with scenes of bloodied and naked prisoners and brutality and sexual humiliation beyond what the U.S. government wants the world to see.
This new group of photos outraged the Arab world, but it's worth remembering that the outrage isn't about the photos. The outrage is that U.S. forces continue to torture and abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and in secret prisons around the world.
We as Americans need to know this happening, which is why the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have been fighting the U.S. government for the release of all materials related to what's happening at Abu Ghraib.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights recently called for the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, saying that treatment of prisoners there in some cases amounts to torture.
There are more than 500 prisoners being held there. Some have been in custody for up to four years without being charged with any crime. While the rampant brutality and sexual abuse that was seen at Abu Ghraib is not present at Guantanamo, prisoners are still being held under conditions that violate accepted human rights standards.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reached a similar conclusion to that of the UN committee when it released its own investigation last year. But the Bush administration continues to insist that it is doing nothing wrong.
At the same time, according to the report in Sunday's Times, the United States is expanding the prison at Bagram. Unlike the Guantanamo detainees, the 500 or so prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and no right to hear the allegations against them. The press and other outside visitors have been barred from Bagram. The International Red Cross has been allowed in, but it hasn't been able to see the entire camp or get a full accounting of the prisoners held there.
That appears to be the U.S. plan. Let the international attention be focused on Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, while we build an even worse prison in Afghanistan where we can do as we please to prisoners without fear of human rights groups or U.S. courts interfering.
Is this what our country stands for today? Or do most Americans not care because it's only brown-skinned foreigners getting abused and who cares about them anyway?
The arrogance of the Bush administration is boundless. It ignored the warnings of the few honest people in the military and intelligence communities that the Bush interrogation policies opened the door to torture and cruelty. All the while, the White House keeps claiming that Bush has the constitutional authority to do all this and more in the name of national security.
It may be a brown-skinned person that they're torturing today. Tomorrow, it could be you.
Indefinite imprisonment without trial, torture and abuse without accountability and warrantless spying on Americans are the horrifying by-products of the White House and the Pentagon's philosophy that anything goes in the pursuit of their alleged war on terror.
This nation now has a choice. We can either insist that our leaders behave in accordance with the established norms of international law and simple human morality, or we can happily watch our country turn into a rogue police state unaccountable to no one.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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