By Helen Thomas | Times Union, July 29, 2009
Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.
Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.
Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the ‘black sites” sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.
“The United States will not torture,” Obama said in his directive. But he has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the torturing.
Members of Congress knew a lot about U.S. torture practices. But Republicans loyal to the Bush administration and Democrats, too, played along and kept silent at the horror of it all.
Why did no bells ring for the U.S. lawmakers — particularly those privy to the brutality — when briefed on the abusive treatment of the captives. Did they owe more allegiance to the CIA than to the honor of our country?
There are hair-raising reports of methods that Americans — including private contractors — have used to coerce information from our prisoners.
They include slamming a prisoner against a wall; denying him sleep and food; waterboarding him under so-called enhanced interrogation; and keeping him in a crate filled with insects.
I remember when President Ronald Reagan, marveling at the courage of American soldiers, used to say: “Where do we get such men?” And I have to ask: “Where did we get such people who would inflict so much pain and ruthlessness on others?”
William Rivers Pitt, a best-selling author who wrote “The Greatest Sedition is Silence,” recently raised the emotional question of whether U.S. adoption of torture has debased the international standards for treatment of prisoners and that our enemies may now feel that they can torture Americans. Pitt specifically expressed concern about Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan last month.
American military leaders had warned President Bush over and over that U.S. torture of prisoners could boomerang against our troops. But he would not listen.
Obama has blocked publication of pictures of the harsh treatment of prisoners from our two ongoing wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — but the word still gets around.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Americans, Bagram in Afghanistan, coersion, foreign prisoners, Guantanamo Bay, Helen Thomas, method of coersion, President Barack Obama, the 'black sites", torture, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan