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Letter from America May 13, 2004
Baseball, Apple Pie and Torture: The American Way
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
I remember on the morning of the 9-11 attacks, even on liberal-elitist NPR radio, the very FIRST reaction of Americans was to call for a suspension of our civil rights and for torture of suspects. It was strange -- every value we'd lectured everyone else in the world to uphold, no matter what their circumstances, went poof! the first time we got attacked. The torture-cheering went mainstream in the months afterwards. Check out these examples from the months following 9/11:

* A segment on Fox News Channel in which anchorman Shepard Smith introduced by asking, "Should law enforcement be allowed to do anything, even terrible things, to make suspects spill the beans?"

* A comment on CNN's "Crossfire" program by right-winger Tucker Carlson, who suggested that under certain circumstances, torture "may be the lesser of two evils."

* An opinion piece in the October 23 Wall Street Journal in which historian Jay Winik reported on the "successful" torture of an alleged terrorist plotter in the Philippines in 1995.

* An article on Slate, the online magazine, by Dahlia Lithwick, entitled "Tortured Justice," which discusses various moral and legal issues in the torture debate.

Add to that an October 21st Washington Post article -- "Silence of 4 Terror Probe Suspects Poses Dilemma" -- and you see that by torturing prisoners, the government was simply carrying out the Will of the People.

Moreover, no one complained about how America suspended the Geneva Conventions and constitutional rights for foreign and American suspects previously - such as the Guantanamo suspects, or Jose Padilla. The nation cheered on a war against a country that had never attacked us, and gave a collective shrug when its one excuse -- WMDs -- turned out to be a lie. Americans only started getting upset about the non-existent WMDs when the war went bad -- not because the WMDs weren't found.

The bottom line is this: the American people, whose supposed humanitarian hearts were horrified by the torture photos, actually DEMANDED that their leaders torture their prisoners. It makes you almost feel some empathy for Rumsfeld, who must have been going, "Wait a minute. I'm the bad guy? You've got to be kidding me. We were in this together, man. You people need Thorazine and Lithium, not ballots!"

This is a democracy, and Rumsfeld forgot that not only does he serve a barbaric, torture-happy population, but also that this same population is incredibly craven, sentimental and self-deluded. They wanted Rummie to torture the Iraqis and at the same time have the Iraqis be grateful...and mean it.

What has happened since the defeat at Fallujah is the shattering of illusions. The Iraqis don't want to write us "thank you" greeting cards. That hurts. What's worse is that we're losing the war -- in fact we've pretty much lost, which is a bummer that Americans cannot process. (The Marines' defeat and retreat in Fallujah is called here a "repositioning" or some bullshit like that.) And now it turns out that not only are we Americans not loved, but that we're actually the bad guys. We're stupid and evil, and the pictures prove it.

This explains the nation's bizarre and shameful displays of self-flagellation and hand-wringing. It has nothing to do with making Arabs happy. We could give a shit about them. It has to do with self-help therapy for Americans.

To see how crazy and deluded we are, just look at the Jonathan Alter's post-Fallujah transformation. The former torture-booster is now a tortured humanist. In his column in the May 17th issue of Newsweek, an article titled "The Picture the World Sees" he squirts:

"But imagine if these images had been of, say, Al Qaeda terrorists in captivity in Afghanistan in late 2001. There would have been no uproar at all. In fact, at that time, too many people (including me) were complacent about the use of psychological interrogation techniques that end up loosening the bonds of civilized behavior and making Americans look like hypocrites."

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