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While the Washington Post has been a reliable supporter of Bush's various "terror" wars, foreign and domestic, it featured a gripping tale of torture, and why it's just plain wrong, today.

Vladimir Bukovsky, who lives in England, presumably beyond the reach of CIA rendition kidnappers, writes about his 12-year experience in the Soviet prison/torture system, and how he is amazed and saddened that the United States has become a torture practitioner and apologist.

Now that President Bush has made a public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain's amendment, it would seem that the debate is ending. But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.

More indignation, and the link,  below.

Bukovsky explains that torture has a centuries-old pedigree of covert practice and overt denial.

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again.

Bukovsky opens the piece with a telling "joke" about Stalin and essential futility of torture:

One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."

As with Stalin's pipe, Bukovsky argues that torture is not useful, indeed it inevitably tends to corrupt the torturers:

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists.

As in Russia, the crimes of our professional sadists will come back to haunt us:

So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.

Unlike the chickenhawks running the Bush regime, Bukovsky has personal experience with torture. He was brutally force-fed during a hunger strike:

To break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose.

Finally, Bukovsky argues that torture is worse than ineffective, it also so taints the torturing country that it becomes the same as all the other torturing countries:

If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which includes CID, has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering. No country needs to invent how to "legalize" torture; the problem is rather how to stop it from happening. If it isn't stopped, torture will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East. And if you cynically outsource torture to contractors and foreign agents, how can you possibly be surprised if an 18-year-old in the Middle East casts a jaundiced eye toward your reform efforts there?

Finally, think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world, particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia, and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend itself without resorting to torture."

The US is torturing today, as it has been for the past four years or so. Given the Bushites' lack of respect for the law, when it comes to their beloved War on Terra, you can expect that they will continue torturing even after the Congress passes the McCain anti-torture bill.

Because King George and his court consider themselves to be above the law, and the Congress, the media and the people have not renounced the Bushites as outlaws.

Originally posted to devtob on Sun Dec 18, 2005 at 04:36 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And this is why (4.00)
    it is so important to expose the torture, and the torturers, everywhere.

    If Bush allows torture to continue < and, really, I think he won't>, he must be exposed, as must the facilities where it is practiced.

    Rendering?

    Expose.

    Contractors, mercs?

    Expose.

    Any run around McCain <law>?

    Expose.

    Zero tolerance.

    •  ATTENTION..all LIBERALS!! (none)

      Tortures work! thts why all tyrants keep doing it.

      It works not as you think, as source of information or as a way to make prisoner speak.

      It works in two form:

      1. as instrument of terror. (mark my word, soon Bush will start torturing his political opponent. It slides ever so slowly. first the hardened criminal, then the criminal, than anything deemed criminal. Including peace activist, political opponents, etc.)

      Terror is a VERY effective way to silent political opponents. And to scare and keep mass in control.

      2. Torture satisfy the public lust for revange. This  function is as old as there is war. Body mutilation, public hanging, etc.  The roman has circus, the British has the tower, ...

      All this to satisfy ruler and public lust for bloody revange.  Hey, they are only brown people, probably terrorists. get those ragheads! (sounds familiar?)

      So be very aware. There is a reason torture is so hard to eradicate. It works VERY effectively as instrument of terror/suppression/and propaganda.

  •  Horrific. (none)
    Speechless.
  •  Those who condone torture (4.00)
    Have either never gone through it themselves, or are sadists of the worst sort.

    Even reading a description of torture and its effects should be enough for a sane person to decry its use. Yet this administration clings to the narrowest of definitions so that they can state "we do not torture" even as their victims are screaming in torment.

    Bush - the ultimate example of the Peter Principle.

    by PatsBard on Sun Dec 18, 2005 at 05:33:47 PM PST

  •  LA Times, too (none)
    Khaled al-Masri's story was printed in today's LA Times Current section

    Kidnapped, tortured, beaten, force-fed, eventually kicked out of the system. For more than five months his wife and five children thought he'd abandoned them.  

    Secretary Rice has stated publicly, during a discussion of my case, that "any policy will sometimes result in errors." But that is exactly why extraordinary rendition is so dangerous. As my interrogators made clear when they told me I was being held in a country with no laws, the very purpose of extraordinary rendition is to deny a person the protection of the law.

    I begged my captors many times to bring me before a court, where I could explain to a judge that a mistake had been made. Every time, they refused. In this way, a "mistake" that could have been quickly corrected led to several months of cruel treatment and meaningless suffering, for me and my entire family.

    My captors would not bring me to court, so last week I brought them to court. Helped by the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued the U.S. government because I believe what happened to me was illegal and should not be done to others. And I believe the American people, when they hear my story, will agree.

    Thank you for this diary.  Washington needs to hear torrents of outrage about torture abroad and a police state at home.  

    Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the practice? -Al Gore

    by soyinkafan on Sun Dec 18, 2005 at 09:19:27 PM PST

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