Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's torture when they do it

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity.)

The medical group Doctors without Borders is leaving detention facilities in Libya over allegations that they were being used to facilitate the continued torture of prisoners:
Medicins San Frontieres pulled its staff out of detention facilities in a Libyan city yesterday after witnessing more than 100 cases of torture against inmates by the revolutionaries that overthrew Col Muammar Gaddafi.

MSF said it was withdrawing staff because it was effectively keeping prisoners alive so that authorities could continue to torture them. [...]

Christopher Stokes, the General Director of MSF, said the scale of torture in two detention centres in the city of Misurata was accelerating despite repeated pleas from the organisation for mistreatment to stop.

Some of the 115 inmates among the 1,500 strong prison population that MSF staff treated after torture were beaten so badly they could not stand, had suffered kidney failure and bore signs of electric shock.

Hundreds of prisoners, many of them black Africans, also told the organisation of suffering torture.

Mr Stokes said MSF medics feared that their work could be used to sustain the process of torturing prisoners. "When you patch people up and then they get taken back to be tortured again in the same evening, you become part of the process," he said.

"We have protested and in some cases they have said they will stop but in other cases they say it happens everywhere, like Abu Ghraib. If anything, the number of cases has been accelerating."

Poor Mr. Stokes appears not to realize that it's not fair to bring up Abu Ghraib in this context. The prisoners at Abu Ghraib were only being subject to enhanced interrogation, enhanced detainment, and enhanced violation of human dignity. It's perfectly obvious that these prisoners in Libya are actually being tortured, because it's always torture when someone other than Americans is doing it.

You see, what matters is not whether rubber hoses, electric shocks, beatings, cold cells, waterboarding or some similar method is employed. What matters is whose hands are on the other end of the rubber hose, the electric switches, the sticks or rods, the climate control settings or the flood of merciless water poured out to cause controlled drownings. If those hands belong to citizens of any nation in the world aside from the United States of America, then what we're talking about is clearly torture. But if those instruments are being employed by patriotic Americans keeping America and her allies safe from terrorism, then all of a sudden we just don't quite know what we're describing. Prisoner discomfort? Enhanced interrogation? A little splash of water on the face--quite nice, actually, considering that the prisoner may still be dripping salty perspiration into open wounds from the last bout of Congressional-approved enhanced chatting with a hostile detainee he just, experienced. In any case, it's not torture, because good red-blooded patriotic Americans don't torture people.

It's amazing to me how clear it is that torture is what is being alleged and what is being described in detention centers in Libya, when nobody could quite seem to see it happening in our detention centers, under our watch. Such loyal, patriotic myopia is also quite good in noticing specks and even planks protruding from the eyes of citizens of other nations, while utterly ignoring that our straining to see these things and avoid seeing our own similar defects has made us morally blind.


Anonymous said...

Lately, in a search for proverbs about thankfulness to make a gratitude diary lately, came across a fitting one for this post; 'the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. —Chinese proverb' I'm sure there's a biblical expression about the unvarnished truth somewhere.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names... I like that one.