Thursday, May 06, 2004

Preaching to the Choir

I found the following in my inbox this morning. It is a perspective worth noting. I'm removing names, as I don't have direct permission to use them. It begins with an introduction that was attached to the "sermon";

I don't usually get into this kind of thing, and I will apologize up front for the fact that this email could be considered political. I sent this to about everyone I could think of, because it hit me so hard. Truth has a way of doing that.

This is from E. A., a guy I know well. He has two doctorates, and I've known of his military service, but never the reasons he held it in such low regard. I produced a record of his music and know of his history. He's an intelligent, straight ahead guy.

Subject: preaching to the choir on American prisoner abuse
Sent: Wednesday, May 5, 2004 6:15 PM

Hello choir,

I was just listening to the reports from Iraq and was reminded of my own experience training to be both a guard and a prisoner of war at the Air Force Academy during the summer program called S.E.R.E. ("seary"; survival, evasion, resistance, escape).

The "resistance" and "escape" part of the training, lasting about a week or so, takes place in a very elaborate mock POW camp in the mountains above the Academy. When I went through the program as a new sophomore (just after recovering from a broken jaw with six weeks of wires and very little food), the POW part of the training came after the survival and evasion parts, which amounted to two weeks of even less sustenance than my wired-jaw period. So I was already delirious, but I remember a variety of sadistic abuses, often in the form of mind games and humiliation. It was a horrible experience, but I imagine it might have prepared me to be in the position some of the Iraqi prisoners have unfortunately found themselves in. I don't really know.

A year after I went through the training as a prisoner, I was chosen to be a guard in the POW camp to facilitate the training of the class one year behind me. Whatever training we guards-to-be may have gotten on how to play the mind games, to humiliate, to be the sadists they wanted us to be, this training paled in comparison to the year we spent venting our pent up hostilities on the members of the class behind us since we spent the whole year "training" them to be cadets. The pent up hostilities came about during our year of abuse, which ended with a "hell week" that put hundreds in the hospital and provoked congress to stop the very old tradition of hell week. This year-long "training" is really an extended course on the type of sadism that permeates the Academies, and has done so since well before my grandfather was hazed in 1924 during his "plebe" year at the Naval Academy.

During my training, I have no recollection of learning the Geneva Convention's rules on the treatment of prisoners. We probably got it though. I just don't remember. I do remember learning about the "Stanford syndrome," where a mock POW camp was created at Stanford and the people involved in this unethical experiment ended up delusional about the reality of the environment and their role in it--ie, they started believing they were in fact guards in a prison, and the people they were treating sadistically deserved what they were getting. The prisoners fell into similar delusions, though of the masochistic kind. I remember being surprised and ashamed when I discovered that I was not as immune to this syndrome as I thought I would be. The realization came as I held a petite young female cadet's face in the dirt because she, as a mock prisoner, didn't listen to the command I gave her while I played the role of a camp guard.

I find it ironic and tragic that people might believe Rumsfeld's line that the abuse the Americans are dishing out to Iraqi prisoners is somehow un-American. The kind of sadism that we are hearing about is actually a rather standard and traditional part of military training. I imagine that most Americans are vulnerable to the fantasies that torturers are to be found among Nazi's, or would be found (the often racist version of these fantasies) in Latin American, Japanese or Vietnamese prison camps. I was disturbed by how familiar the photo of the strutting, smiling female guard with naked Iraqi men behind her was for me. It reminded me of my very American "training."

I was reminded of how I had to learn to "resist" the torturing of my captors. In order to learn how to teach this lesson, to teach "resistance," someone, the teacher, has to become an expert in torture. The US has many such experts. Many of them, as many of you know, work at what is known as the Army's "School of the Americas," recently given the Orwellian name of the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation." As Mary Turck puts it in an on-line article:

"What do Col. Byron Lima Estrada of Guatemala, Lt. Josê Espinoza Guerra and General Juan Orlando Zepeda, both of El Salvador, and General Juan López Ortiz of Mexico have in common?

They are all murderers. They were all trained at the School of the Americas. Because of them, and because of thousands of others like them, many people call U.S. Army's School of the Americas the "School of Assassins."

And what do Panama's Manuel Noriega, Argentina's Leopoldo Galtiere, Peru's Juan Velasco Alvarado, Ecuador's Guillermo Rodriguez, and Bolivia's Hugo Banzer have in common? They have all been dictators in their countries, and they were all trained at the School of the Americas. Because of them, and others, many people call the U.S. Army's School of the Americas the "School of Coups."

The School of the Americas (SOA) is a military training school for Latin American soldiers. SOA is an official program of the U.S. government, funded by the government and run by the U.S. Armed Forces since 1946. SOA graduates have long been implicated in terrorism, human rights violations, coercion, and atrocities committed against civilian populations across Latin America."

You can see the rest of the article at the web site below. My basic reason for sending this article is to give everyone a sense of how very American it is to torture, humiliate, terrorize, and not follow the Geneva Convention--which means how American it is to commit war crimes. There is a well-documented history of this for those who aren't blinded by their patriotism and their delusional John Wayne Americas. How these fantasy Americas so consistently stand up to the fact that not long ago millions of southeast Asians were killed by Americans ... so they wouldn't become communists ... boggles my mind. Millions killed so they would be "free"? Is this un-American too?

With this basic reality of the Vietnam war always there, think of the delusional mind-set someone has to be in to talk about torturing prisoners being un-American--how much denial there must be there. We might call it "fanatical." My guess is that bin Laden knows this violent American history quite well, and is teaching it to his Jihadist students. Different kinds of fanatics, but fanatics for sure; a clash between fanatics, which is the usual historically.

What seems so scary now is that Jihadists around the world now have an even stronger case that the US invasion of Iraq, led by a fanatical former oil man, is a US power grab, "naked aggression" (as Bush senior said of Iraq years ago), an illegal occupation with the goal of gaining more control over Arab resources, the second largest known oil reserves in the world. As if they needed a stronger case to stir up anti-American hatred. I am embarrassed that a year ago I was fooled into believing the WMD threat was real, and that I wasn't more against the invasion then. Perhaps my "training" clouded my judgement. Excuses, excuses.
School of Assassins


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