Here’s a story that seems to be getting little play in the American media: a candidate for the U.S. Congress who is proudly running on his record as a torturer of innocent civilians in Iraq. Pressing time constraints today prevent me from writing fully on this, but read Johan Hari’s report in The Independent. (Yes, once again, you have to cross the ocean to find out what’s going on in America):
So what will be left of the Republican Party after next week’s US election? The answer lies in the sands of Florida, where the sunshine-state Republicans have nominated an unrepentant torturer as their candidate for Congress. They view his readiness to torture an innocent Iraqi not as a source of shame, but as his prime qualification for office. This is American conservatism in the dying days of Bush – and it points out the direction that Sarah Palin would like to take it in 2012.
In August 2003, Colonel Allen West – commanding a US unit in Baghdad – heard a rumour that one of the Iraqi policeman he was working with was a secret insurgent. He ordered his officers to go and seize Yehiya Hamoodi, a thin, bespectacled 31-year-old, from his home. They dragged him into a Humvee, beat him, and then handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded him. In a dank interrogation room, they told him he had better start talking.
Perplexed and terrified, Yehiya explained he didn’t know what they were talking about: why was he here? So West was called in. He told Yehiya he was going to be killed. While his men beat him again, he explained he had one last chance to save his life – by talking.
Yehiya protested: I am innocent! What are you talking about? So West took him outside, had him pinned down, and began to shoot. First he fired into the air. Then he ordered his men to ram Yehiya’s head into a barrel used for cleaning weapons – and fired right next to his head. Then he began to count down from five. Finally Yehiya began to scream out names – any name he could think of, just to make it stop.
The men he named were seized and roughed up in turn. No evidence was found of any plot, and after another 45 days of terror, Yehiya was released. Today, he is severely traumatised, and collapses when he sees a Humvee approaching. The story only came to light after one of West’s soldiers began to protest against these practices, and the Pentagon launched an investigation. At a pre-trial hearing, West was fined $5,000, and now concedes grudgingly: “It’s possible I was wrong about Mr Hamoodi.” But he says he would do it again, and again, and again.
West has even taken to joking about it, gaining applause for telling Republican audiences: “It wasn’t torture. Seeing Rosie O’Donnell naked would be torture.” But the 1994 Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, is explicit: “Threat of imminent death” is the third form of torture it outlaws. There are reams of studies showing it can traumatise a person for life.
Yet the Republican Party has rallied to the defence of this torturer, and of torture in general. The Bush administration has ordered the simulated drowning of “high-value” suspects, and set up secret black ops sites across the world where it is practiced. After Afghan detainees were hanged from the ceiling and beaten to death, the officers responsible were merely given a “letter of reprimand”.
West’s “toughness” is fawned over; one leading conservative magazine has even named him its Man of the Year. And Sarah Palin, the Party’s darling, mocks Barack Obama’s opposition to torture. She complains: “Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America [and] he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.” Palin is fond of saying that she “won’t blink when it comes to terror”, but if you don’t blink, your corneas dry out, and you go blind.
Read the whole piece. I have some disagreement with Hari’s conclusion, when he says: “The gap between the Republican and Democratic Parties is too narrow, but on this issue it is hefty.” I have not seen any calls whatsoever from the Democratic leadership to prosecute all those involved in the vast apparatus of torture spawned by the “War on Terror.” The Democrats have condemned “torture,” of course, but what of that? Bush does the same, even as he orders it up. And of course, a few small fry can be served up; again, Bush has done the same. But there is no indication whatsoever that an Obama administration or an even larger-majority Democratic congress will ever pursue justice against the officers, the agency chiefs and department heads, the atrocity-abetting lawyers — and, of course, the very highest officials of the state — who created and maintained this evil system.