It was, by all reports, the most heinous terrorist act in history. A ruthless gang of religious extremists, driven by an insatiable hatred for Western civilization, killed multitudes of innocent people in a surprise attack that struck without warning, without mercy. The perpetrators – who posed as ordinary citizens, members of a law-abiding ethnic minority going about their daily business – took advantage of the burgeoning global economy to move easily across borders as they brought their vast conspiracy to its poisonous fruition.
But Western leaders, though they did sleep, finally roused themselves to action. One by one, terrorist operatives fell into their hands. In the face of such an unprecedented threat, the "gloves came off": captives were subjected to strenuous interrogation as officials worked feverishly to forestall any further attacks. Soon the hard evidence of guilt emerged: the words of the conspirators themselves, set down in black and white, confessing all, in copious detail, irrefutable.
That's how 14th-century Europe "learned" that the Black Death – the rat-borne plague that killed 25 million people across the continent in just four years – had been "caused" by the Jews. Vague rumor and ancient prejudice were "confirmed" by evidence extracted from captured Jews who had been "put to the question" – the medieval spin-word for "torture." The story that emerged was full of concrete detail, like a pre-war New York Times report on Saddam Hussein's WMD: names of the terrorist leaders, the elaborate methods used to poison wells, specific locations, the composition of the various toxins, etc.
Armed with such official reports – earnestly delivered by the Colin Powells of the day, trusted officials oozing gravitas and sincerity – Europe embarked on a frenzy of pogroms. In city after city, country after country, the Jews were rounded up, burned alive, beheaded, beaten to death, slaughtered in every way imaginable, man, woman and child. All of it justified in the name of security – and all of it based on lies, on desperate nightmares wrung from innocent people tormented into madness. The plague pogroms marked a watershed in European anti-Semitism, notes author John Kelly in his sweeping history, The Great Mortality: a new element of outright eliminationism entered into the traditional religious disputes and cultural frictions. The seeds of the Holocaust were sown by the inhumanity of sanctioned torture.
Who knows what seeds of future horror are being sown this very day in the vast, sprawling hive of torture that George W. Bush and his chief minions, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, have spread across the planet? How many lies condemning how many innocent people are even now being extracted by "stress techniques," by "sensory disorientation," by electric shocks and sexual humiliation, by waterboarding and snarling dogs, by the infliction of pain just short of "organ failure or impairment of bodily function," and other refinements devised by the perverters of law in the White House and Pentagon?
Each week brings fresh confirmation of the continuing atrocities – carried out as deliberate state policy, at the direct order of the highest officials – in the Bushist hellholes of Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other sites still hidden from the sun. This week, it was Amnesty International, documenting the plight of 14,000 prisoners held without charges by American occupiers and their native proxies in Iraq: limbo denizens, some incarcerated for years, many of them horribly tortured.
Last week, it was the Bush Administration itself, declaring in open court that the much-ballyhooed "anti-torture" law that Bush signed just last month is a dead letter, the Washington Post reports. The Bushists say that the law's protections cannot be applied to the captives in Guantanamo, because a backdoor provision in the bill stripped those subhumans of their habeas corpus rights: they have no standing before any court to address any aspect of their eternal detention – until they have gone a progress through the guts of Bush's self-devised, extra-constitutional "military tribunals."
And there, they will find that the evidence marshalled against them may have been extracted by torture, Agence France Presse reports. Colonel Peter Brownback, presiding over one of the kangaroo sessions last week, refused to issue a blanket ban on torture-derived testimony, basing his decision on quintessential Bushist reasoning: "What you and I mean by torture might be different." Indeed, that's the crux of the matter; Bush and his minions have simply defined torture out of existence. Anything short of deliberate murder or, in Brownback's own formulation, "a red-hot needle in the eye," is simply a "strenuous interrogation technique." (However, "accidental" murder of those "put to the question" is OK, according to the White House legal briefs that undergird the gulag, the Washington Post reports.)
Thus, when Rumsfeld issued an official memo in 2003 authorizing Abu Ghraib's inquisitors to use "stress positions," humiliation, hunger, sleep deprivation and sensory assaults to break the minds of prisoners, decorating the page with his hand-written exhortations ("Make sure this happens!!"), as prison commandant General Janis Karpinski has testified. he wasn't actually committing a war crime by ordering torture. There is no such thing as torture, you see – if a Bush official orders it. No torture, no crime – just the broken minds, broken bodies and, in dozens of cases documented by Amnesty and others, the battered corpses of Bush's gulag guests.
Torture is the new plague, the real poison, spreading the toxins of untruth and brutality throughout the society that embraces it. The well-documented reality of Bush's ghastly system is now glaringly obvious for all to see. There can be no more excuses. Anyone who ignores this spreading evil is willfully blind; anyone who defends it is morally corrupt.
Chris Floyd/This is a slightly revised version of the column appearing in the March 10 edition of The Moscow Times.