I’m always amazed at the extent to which the U.S. “War on Terror” went and goes unquestioned. Now that we’re over a decade in, there are those in Congress and the media who seem to recognize that there is something vaguely embarrassing or shameful about waging aggressive war replete with an infrastructure for torture, abduction and disappearance. But the sense seems to be that it would be more embarrassing to have to admit that we’ve done something wrong, or that we might have made a poor choice along the way.
So instead, we fumble brutally along, happier to accept a war that is guaranteed to get lots of people killed and cannot possibly succeed than to admit our mistakes and take a chance on an approach that might offer some peace.
Reading some cases in the report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative, one gets the sense that this sadistic brand of pig-headedness explains how the U.S. conducts its kidnapping and torture expeditions. From the report:
“Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni national, was detained in Tanzania by Tanzanian authorities on December 26, 2003, and transferred the next day to Djibouti, according to his complaint before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. He was held incommunicado and abused in Djibouti for about two weeks before being driven to the airport and transferred to a U.S. “rendition team” of five individuals clad in black, their faces concealed, who carried him onto a waiting plane.
He was subjected to further incommunicado detention and abuse in three secret CIA prisons, including two in Afghanistan. While in secret detention, al-Asad was subjected to abusive conditions, including extreme isolation and absence of human contact, loud music and artificial light twenty-four hours a day, exposure to cold, and dietary manipulation.
On May 5, 2005, al-Asad was transferred to a prison in Yemen after which he was tried on, and pled guilty to, a charge of forging travel documents based on his own admission to Yemeni prosecutors that he had used unauthorized documentation in Tanzania. He was eventually released on March 14, 2006, without ever being charged with a terrorism-related crime” (32)
Al-Asad was held by the United States for over two years. At what point in that process whereby he lost years of his life, his dignity, his name, and presumably his peace of mind, did his abductors decide that he was no threat? Did they realise while he was being tortured in Djibouti, a country with a strong U.S. military presence? Did they realise when he came into the “possession” of the U.S. kidnapping team, the members of which walk free and presumably continue to work for our government? Did they realise when he was being held in the network of torture prisons in Afghanistan?
The logic of this system is twisted. If al Asad posed no threat, then there can’t have been any evidence supporting his initial abduction. But if this was the case, why did they persist in the execution of their cruel crimes? Why didn’t they simply release him then, admit their mistake, and move on? Why persist with the shameful charade? Was he transferred to Yemen simply so that he could be charged with something, thereby, in the warped minds of the perpetrators of the crimes, somehow justifying his treatment?
This is the kind of thinking that our war of terror forces us into. This is what becomes normalised when we commit to waging a war in the shadows in which we ask our representatives—whether those who license such obscene conduct from Congress and the White House, or those in our military and intelligence services who unquestioningly perform such dirty deeds—to rationalise their immoral behaviour but avert our own eyes so that we don’t have to see our handiwork up close.
“We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective”—Dick Cheney (“Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, 5).