Notes From Underground: Exposing the Maw of Bush's Gulag

This is a slightly expanded version of the column published in the Sept. 30 edition of The Moscow Times, where you will find full annotations and links to sources for this piece. For more, see the earlier posts on this issue: The Good Captain and Dark as a Dungeon. The illustration is by the incomporable Bogorad, the artist for The Moscow Times.

Quietly, firmly, relentlessly, the good captain laid out the list of atrocities committed at
the order of the enemies of freedom: "Death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

A catalogue of depravity, all of it designed – with diabolical sophistry – by self-exalted men cloaking their violent perversions with sham piety and righteous sputum. This was terrorism on a grand scale, chewing up the innocent and guilty alike.

The good man in question is of course Captain Ian Fishback, the born-again U.S. Army officer who has blown the whistle on the systematic abuse of captives rounded up in George W. Bush's Terror War. Fishback, frustrated after 17 months of trying to get the above atrocities investigated through official channels, finally turned to Human Rights Watch – and top Republican senators – seeking redress for the bloody dishonor that Bush has brought upon America.

In one sense, Fishback's revelations – corroborated by other soldiers, now lying low to ward off the inevitable reprisals by Bush minions – are not news. For example, I've been writing in Counterpunch and elsewhere about the use of torture in Bush's global gulag since January 2002. It was no secret; at first, the Bushists even bragged about it. "The gloves are coming off" was a favorite phrase of the deskbound tough guys cracking foxy to an enthralled media.

They also boasted of "unleashing" the CIA, which set up its own "shadow army" of non-uniformed combatants operating outside the law – i.e., "terrorists," in Bush's own definition – while creating secret prisons all over the world. As one CIA op enthused to the Boston Globe: "'We are doing things I never believed we would do – and I mean killing people!" A senior Bush official proudly pointed to the ultimate authority for this deadly system: "If the commander-in-chief didn't think it was appropriate, we wouldn't be doing it."  (continued)

We now know that in the very first weeks of the Terror War, White House legal lackeys began concocting weasel-worded "findings" to justify a range of Torquemadaean techniques while shielding Bush honchos from prosecution for the clear breaches of American and international law they were already planning. Bush and his top officials signed off on very specific torture parameters, including savage physical assault and psychological torment; even beating a captive to death was countenanced, as long the killer proclaimed that he had no murder in his heart when he commenced to whupping, the New York Review reports. Indeed, the lackeys went so far as to establish a new principle of Executive Transcendence: the president, they claimed, could not be constrained by any law whatsoever in his conduct of the Terror War.

Fishback saw the fruits of this vile labor in the vast Bushist holding pens in Iraq, where thousands upon thousands of Iraqis were herded, beaten, and tortured – even though 70 to 90 percent of them were innocent of any crime, the International Red Cross reported in 2004. The incidents he and the other soldiers detailed took place before, during – and after – the photographic revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib. The mayhem "happened every day," said the soldiers – and was committed "under orders from military intelligence personnel to soften up detainees."

"They wanted intel," said a sergeant, one of the ordinary, untrained grunts pressed into duty as interrogation muscle. "As long as no [captives] came up dead, it happened. We kept it to broken arms and legs" – sometimes with baseball bats, and occasionally augmented by scalding naked prisoners with burning chemicals. The soldiers learned their "stress techniques" from CIA interrogators, dropping into Iraq from their "unleashed" torture centers in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia and points unknown.

But of course they didn't always "keep it" to broken arms and legs. Fishback, who had been trying desperately to get his superiors to act on the atrocities he'd witnessed himself, discovered that a captive had been "interrogated" to death. From that point on, while still urging official action, he also began gathering evidence and testimony from fellow officers about the nightmarish regimen, the Los Angeles Times reports. When at long last he began to realize "that the Army is deliberately misleading the American people about detainee treatment within our custody," he stepped out of the system – and into the storm.

What will come of the good captain's moral courage? Nothing much. A Pentagon investigation has been belatedly launched; no doubt a few more bad eggs will be fried, just as the hapless Lynndie England, poster girl for Abu Ghraib, was convicted this week for "aberrations" that, as Fishback confirms, were countenanced and encouraged throughout Iraq. Fishback himself will be certainly slimed in one of Karl Rove's patented smear campaigns. By next week, the upright, Bible-believing West Point grad – a veteran of both the Afghan and Iraqi wars – will be transformed by Fox News and the war-porn bloggers into a cowardly, anti-American terrorist sympathizer under the hypnotic control of Michael Moore.

Meanwhile, one of the Republican senators Fishback approached – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist – has already put the kibosh on legislation setting clear legal guidelines for prisoner treatment. Frist, a goonish errand boy now under investigation for insider trading, killed the bill after hearing Fishback's evidence. His White House masters don't want any legal clarity for their dark deeds; they can only thrive in the murk of moral chaos.

One thing is certain: the true architects of these atrocities will never face justice. They'll go on to peaceful, prosperous retirements, heedless of the broken bodies and broken nations – including their own – left behind in their foul wake.