Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dec. 10: Why the surprise?

I apologize to the TandT. It thought it would give little attention to the CIA torture scandal.. To my surprise, it devoted one of the longest stories I have ever seen in this paper. But I am puzzled by it.

Why does the story display shock and surprise that the CIA has been using torture? It's been well known for over a dozen years. There have been stories about it, pictures of it, videos. There are thousands of web sites from reputable sources that deal with this. Just check google for torture US - and list Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Guatemala, US prisons.....and the list goes on. This story gets a whole page - and says nothing that wasn't general knowledge years ago. And how come this is the first time the Irving press has even mentioned it?

And the report tells us that Bush and Obama were unaware of the scale of it...  Oh, please. Both knew that torture was going on because both approved of it and authorized it. Hey, if I knew about this up here in Moncton, surely the presidents of the United States knew it. The point made in the story that they didn't know how terrible it was is both unbelievable and irrelevant. How terrible it was or wasn't doesn't matter because international law and the UN convention of 1984 both make torture illegal. the law and the convention don't say there's good torture and bad torture. It's all bad.   And it's a war crime. It's what we hanged people on the other side for after World War Two.

The fact that Republicans are disputing the findings - and that many people will agree with the Republicans - is just one more sign of the insanity that grips so many of us. I can hear the excuses now. "It gave us valuable information."  "The other side is worse. It chops heads off."  However, we're supposed to be in these wars to defend our values. In any case, the CIA and the US have been torturing long, long before ISIL was ever heard of.

In the 80s, when the CIA was busy slaughtering Guatemalans (to please the Dole fruit company and various Canadian mining companies, it used torture widely - including on a nun who was there as a teacher. It used torture all over Latin America. The American army used torture when it conquered The Phillipines about 1900. In fact, that's where the torture called "waterboarding" was developed.

(Why would the US invade and conquer The Phillipines? It was then a quite primitive country, and no possible threat to anybody. They conquered it to spread the US control of trade to the Pacific region - the same reason they would later use conquest to establish bases to invade China. Like Guatemala, it was a war to please big business. The lack of any morality whatever in big business has been a major factor in impoverishing much of the world, killing millions of innocent people - and encouraging torture.)

The US military, like its counterparts all of the world ( pretty much all of them), has a long history of torture. The west European imperial powers tortured their colonial conquests for centuries.  This information has been available for years. But, gee, nobody in the news media or our governments knew anything about any of this  until yesterday when the Senate report came out.

Torture is also standard in the US prison system - sometimes for information, sometimes just for fun for the guards. Guards arrange rapes carried out by prisoners on each other - or sometimes with just a baton, sleep deprivation, beatings, confinement in overheated rooms, baths in scalding water - and so it goes. This is routine for the over 6 million prisoners in the world's largest prison system.

Of course, that would never happen in Canada. Or, if it did, we wouldn't be told. So not to worry.

There are several questions to be asked here. What Bush and Obama authorized, even if it was less than was actually done, was illegal. So the directors of the CIA and two presidents should be in court facing war crimes charges. It is almost certain that Britain was involved, and deeply involved. That puts a least a couple of prime ministers on the line.

Did Canada cooperate in any way? Did it deliver prisoners it knew would be tortured? That's illegal, too. Will Harper launch an investigation to find out the truth? Not bloody likely. But Canada has a least a share of the guilt. It frequently handed over prisoners in Afghanistan to the US. It's illegal to hand over prisoners to a country that is likely to use torture.  (But, oh, gee, Harper didn't know the US was torturing. He was too busy at the time using his secret police to spy on environmentalists.)

Expect a story from John McCain about how the Vietnamese tortured him. He's built a career on that story; but there's considerable evidence it isn't true. He was shot down over Vietnam, crashed into a lake,  breaking both legs. He was drowning when one of the Vietnamese peasants he had been bombing risked his life to swim out to save him. Then, Vietnamese doctors saved his life again by repairing the serious damage he suffered in the crash.

Did the Vietnamese practice torture? No doubt - just as the US did. But most of the evidence suggests McCain was not tortured. He was too valuable as the son of a leading American naval officer. Indeed, his prison guard visited him at his Senate office - hardly the act of a man who had tortured him.

For all its length, there is nothing new in this report. The Irving press had plenty of time for one of its columnists or editors to write an opinion about it - to raise questions, to explain the law.... nobody did. Is there no person in that whole press system who knows enough to ask at least the basic questions about the report?

On a more general note, this story is a reminder of the utter collapse of any morality there might have been in foreign affairs. As a rule, foreign policies are decided on the basis of economic interests - which, in most of the western world means the interests of the very wealthy. In the west, we say these interests are capitalist; but it's not a whole lot different in Russia or China or any other country I can think of. And whether that economic interest is called capitalism or some other vague word doesn't matter. They all operate on pure greed with no concern whatever for moral values of any sort.

That's why the very wealthy cannot be allowed to govern. But they do. And the result is societies in which the needs of most of the population are ignored, and why practices like torture and mass murder are accepted. Call it what you will, any economic system has to be regulated and controlled - and kept out of government. This is a moral issue, but not JUST a moral issue. The whole future of our society rests on it. That's why every society in history has developed religion and morality. (And none of them have meant attending the Irving Chapel to hear the "special music".)

This is what the Saturday Faith page sermonette should be about. The Senate report on torture is profoundly about a collapse in moral values. But we won't get that, will we? No. It'll probably be another beddie-bye story about how the morning dew on the flowers is really fairy urine.


  1. I had a comment on the post above. I thought it was funny, and I rather liked it. But then I realized that many people would find it offensive - so I decided I had better not post it.

    Sorry to whoever posted it. I did think it was funny.

    1. Sorry Graeme. I shouldn't have mixed profanity with our Lord. I'll try to do better next time.