Little of what the UN report is supposed to contain is going to be a shock to anyone, least of all the U. S. or Canadian governments. The U. S. State Department’s Country Report on Afghanistan points out that Afghan prisons routinely use extremely enhanced interrogation techniques, such as “beating by stick, scorching bar, or iron bar; flogging by cable; battering by rod; electric shock; deprivation of sleep, water, and food; abusive language; sexual humiliation; and rape.” A U. S. State Department cable (07KABUL1578, Wikileaks) from May 10, 2007 describes what the Canadian embassy found when they visited a prison facility in Kandahar. There they heard torture allegations from two detainees, and one claimed “that he had been taken to a basement in the guest house of Kandahar Governor [Asadullah] Khalid, and that the Governor himself had tortured him with electric shocks. Canadian Embassy contacts tell us they have heard some other similarly ominous reports of such abuses by Governor Khalid.”
The UN report is more dangerous than the U. S. reports because it signals the violation of international law, something that, at least for now, worries the Canadians. The U. S. can’t be bothered. It might be worth remembering that Asadullah Khalid was a sharp critic of the NATO aerial bombardment in Kandahar in 2007.
The Afghan government has refused to accept the UN’s not-yet-released report. But the Afghan Human Rights Commission had already affirmed these reports by 2007. Here is a summary from the Afghan HRC of what was done to the “detainees”:
“They were whipped with electrical cables, usually a bundle of wires about the length of an arm. Some said the whipping was so painful that they fell unconscious. Interrogators also jammed cloth between the teeth of some detainees, who described hearing the sound of a hand-crank generator and feeling the hot flush of electricity coursing through their muscles, seizing them with spasms. Another man said the police hung him by his ankles for eight days of beating. Still another said he panicked as interrogators put a plastic bag over his head and squeezed his windpipe. Torturers also used cold as a weapon, according to detainees who complained of being stripped half-naked and forced to stand through winter nights when temperatures in Kandahar drop below freezing.”
I am thinking of Gurmeet Singh when I read this, wondering how his fingers were damaged, what technologies of modernity inflicted that pain on his body. I am thinking of Dick Cheney, who Obama rightly called the “crazy uncle in the attic,” as he does the talk shows to promote his book and to defend the necessity of torture. In his new book, Cheney describes how after some enhanced techniques, Abu Zubaydah’s “debriefings” went swimmingly. Cheney, like a caped crusader, ignores the niceties of the overt legal police for the covert legalities of the shadows – he never concedes that torture is illegal, but insists that he had legal opinions to show it was constitutional and besides it was effective. That the consensus opinion is not on his side is irrelevant, because it seems that the shadows continue to follow Cheney’s view.
Torture is treated like a homeopathic technique: a little violence used against violence might cure violence. “One inoculates the public with a contingent evil,” Roland Barthes astutely put it, “to prevent or cure an essential one.” But what happens when the torture is not the remedy, but if it indeed the malady: if it is torture of the body and the spirit that provokes and prepares the retaliations that have now become legion? It is easy to ask the question, as pundits have been doing ten years after 9/11, “are we safer now”? But the question fails. We are not safer, not those who live in Droneland, in the shadow of the archipelago of prison, in the clutches of what the Center for American Progress has called Fear Inc., the institutions of Islamaphobia that now infect U. S. society. There is no such thing as a little torture or a little illegal bombing, a little war, a little fear. As with bloodletting, torture weakens the body politic. It is another legacy of 9/11.
What does all this matter, asks Cheney, sitting on our collective shoulders, if a little torture maintains Order? But does it. Will the next terrorist come from the family of an Afghan farmer, tortured and returned to his family, a bag of bones with a vacant look on his eyes, whose son or daughter burns with anger and then takes up an old gun and rushes into the blinding light, searching for someone to kill?
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: [email protected]
Republished from Counterpunch with the author’s permission.