As we debate the report on the “enhanced interrogation” practiced by the CIA against terrorists, we need to keep in mind that the precedent for our intelligence agency’s behavior was set by the War on Crime and the War on Drugs. The fear-mongering we have heard since 9/11 is cut from the same cloth as the fear-mongering about crime and drugs that has led to so many black men spending time in prison.
Did the “enhanced interrogation” techniques qualify as torture? I have always thought of torture as much more brutal: Ripping off fingernails, breaking bones, breaking or pulling teeth, beatings and things like the rack. Waterboarding may well meet the definition of torture, and forcing someone into a “stress position” (hanging by their arms for over 20 hours per day) and extreme sleep deprivation are all certainly inhumane.
There are certainly some things that were done that qualify as torture, such as medically unnecessary forced rectal feeding and hydration. But should we be surprised to find out we are doing this, considering the fact that American citizens are being raped by law enforcement in the name of the War on Drugs? We have gotten to the point that worry about people smuggling drugs has led to people being forced to undergo an anal probe. In other words, anal rape. For more, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.
Moreover, the abuse of prisoners of war – or the sexual humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib a decade ago – should come as no surprise in a nation where prison rape is epidemic. The brutal rape of men in our prisons is seen as a funny joke in the pop culture, or in a darker way as something the prisoner “deserves” to have happen to him. It is no surprise that a nation that does not protect the basic human rights of American citizens in our prisons would not respect the basic human rights of prisoners of war, especially when those prisoners are considered “unlawful enemy combatants” and given the patriotic fervor of the post 9/11 era.
The Washington Post pointed out earlier this month that Hollywood conditions Americans to accept torture through portrayals of how torture is justified when used on terrorists. But Hollywood has been an extreme right wing fantasy land on crime and drugs for decades now. How many movies and TV shows have had dangerous criminals get out because of a “technicality” only to kill and rape and maim more innocent people? If we could just dispense with due process and have vigilante justice, Hollywood tells us, we could be so much safer.
We are seeing the same kind of fear-mongering in today’s loud and contentious arguments about the alleged rape “crisis” on college campuses. We need to dispense with due process and accept a lower standard of proof, feminists say, because we need to protect victims who are intimidated by their rapist being allowed on campus and to protect future victims. This is not new: Remember the lynchings of black men framed for committing “rape” against white women? Remember Emmett Till, who was brutally tortured to death for allegedly whistling at a white woman?
We have work to do in making sure we behave honorably in how we conduct our wars, but that is the fruit of a poisonous tree. The root of that tree is our attitudes toward the War on Crime and the War on Drugs, and our willingness to toss aside both the civil rights and the human rights of people even suspected of crimes – much less those who are actually convicted.