Dark Waters: Sailing Into Madness With the Shade of Josef Mengele

Published in The Moscow Times, July 8, 2005.

On July 1, the former presidential physician of George H.W. Bush wrote a guest column for the Washington Post. Two days later, the attorney general appointed by George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad. These seemingly unrelated events are not only inextricably linked; together they form a portrait of a nation gone wretchedly astray, hurtling into a moral void from which there may be no return.

There was nothing unusual about the physician, Dr. Burton Lee III, doing a piece for the Post, of course; the paper is the house organ of the American political elite, and a whole troop of loyal Bush Family retainers make regular appearances in its editorial pages, lauding the son who has now ascended the throne. What is remarkable is that Lee came not to praise the younger Bush, but to bury him – with hard truths about the torture regime he has installed in his "terror war" gulag.

Lee, a former military doctor, denounced Bush's use of military medical personnel to help "set the conditions for interrogation": withholding treatment from tortured prisoners, breaking medical confidence to tell interrogators of prisoners' physical and psychological weak spots, and other heinous practices approved by the White House and codified in Pentagon directives for military medical staff.

The good doctor is right to be shocked: the shadow of Josef Mengele hovers over these deliberate perversions of medical ethics. Yet Bush has not only countenanced these crimes against humanity – he has commanded that medical personnel commit them. This level of open, legalized barbarity has not been seen in the United States government since the days of slavery and the Indian wars.

Lee also shredded the big Bush lie that the noble "terror war" had only been temporarily tainted by a few "bad apples," now thankfully removed from the wholesome barrel. In denouncing the "systematic, government-sanctioned torture and excessive abuse of prisoners in the war on terror," Lee noted the true extent of the criminality – and those who bear the ultimate responsibility for it. He writes:

"The widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment – frequently based on military and government documents – defy the claim that this abusive behavior is limited to a few non-commissioned officers at Abu Ghraib or isolated incidents at Guantanamo Bay. When it comes to torture, the military's traditional leadership and discipline have been severely compromised up and down the chain of command. Why? I fear it is because the military has bowed to errant civilian leadership."

Here Lee cites the literally thousands of pages of evidence produced by the Army's own investigators detailing systematic torture and murder throughout Bush's world-engulfing gulag. In a separate interview, Lee then points readers to the new report by the Physicians for Human Rights group: "Break Them Down: The Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces." As Lee points out, psychological torture can be even more damaging and long-lasting than a bout of physical abuse – something he learned first-hand from treating the victims of French torture in Algeria.

The graphic horrors of physical torture – captured in the infamous pictures from Abu Ghraib – have understandably garnered most of the attention in the media's occasional glances at Bush's concentration camps. And here, under pressure, the White House has reluctantly made a few cosmetic changes, limiting to some extent the knuckle-work that interrogators can use – although PHR notes that many of these ballyhooed "reforms" have never been implemented. In any case, these restrictions can be suspended in cases of "military necessity," as Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld always notes carefully in his instructions to the cadres. And of course, none of the published restrictions on military interrogators apply in the super-secret CIA quadrants of the gulag, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales informed Congress this year.

But while eighty-sixing the brass knucks – in mixed company, at least – Bush and Rumsfeld have continued to implement a range of mind-breaking psychological tortures, the official documents show: practices which PHR notes are "immoral and…illegal under the Geneva Conventions… [U.S.] domestic law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." These codified crimes are spread across the gulag's 42 prisons, where some 11,000 men are now caged – many of them innocent of any wrongdoing, all of them held without charges in an endless legal limbo.

This nightmare machinery was set in motion by Gonzales, who, at Bush's order, led the White House legal team in drawing up official memos justifying the use of torture to the very point of death, and declaring that Bush was not bound by any laws in his role as "commander-in-chief." This monstrous perversion of justice was a virtual coup d'etat, establishing the president as a military autocrat and fostering an atmosphere of lawlessness and brutality "up and down the chain of command."

After Lee's article appeared, Gonzales was suddenly dispatched to Baghdad, AP reports: a headline-grabbing diversion that not only obscured Lee's hard truths but also buried the Observer's breaking stories about the torture and murder being dealt out by Bush's disciples in the new Iraqi government. There Gonzales, the ghostwriter of Bush's torture opus, simply erased the mountains of official evidence cited by Lee and PHR, reducing the ongoing, worldwide atrocity to a single aberrant episode: "From the best we can tell, it really related to the actions of the night shift at one cell block at Abu Ghraib."

This breathtaking lie – regurgitated in the face of undisputed fact – shows how far the Bush gang has fallen into the void of radical evil. Lost to honor, law and truth, unmoored from reality, they are sailing into madness – with no end yet in sight.