The United States of Torture

Revolution #005, June 12, 2005, posted at revcom.us

Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghani taxi driver, was taken to "Bagram Collection Point" — the U.S. center for interrogation and torture in Afghanistan. We now know some of what happened to him in 2002, because details from a secret U.S. Army report have leaked out.

The guards beat Dilawar over and over, especially on his legs. Then for almost four days, he was chained to the ceiling of his cell by his wrists.

Finally, at 2 a.m. one morning, he was taken again for interrogation. As Dilawar was forced down into a chair, his legs were twitching uncontrollably and his hands were completely numb. And the questioning started again.

When Dilawar asked for water, U.S. Specialist Joshua R. Claus mocked him, and squirted water hard into his face, shouting, "Come on, drink! Drink!" as the young man gagged.

A guard tried to force Dilawar to his knees, but his beaten legs could simply no longer bend.

Eventually, Dilawar was dragged back to his cell. "Leave him up," Specialist Claus barked. And the guards chained Dilawar to the ceiling again by his wrists.

A doctor was sent by, but by then Dilawar was already dead and his body had begun to stiffen.

The base coroner wrote that the tissues in Dilawar's legs had been "pulpified"—in the way seen when someone is run over by a bus. And interrogators later noted that they believed Dilawar never had any information to tell them, that he had just been driving his taxi past a U.S. base when he was seized.

The United States of Torture

The story of Dilawar's murder, and much more about the U.S. torture around the world, is now out in public view—including with detailed documentation right on the front pages of the leading newspapers in the U.S.

And as all this tumbles out, a whole other layer of outrages unfolds—as all these crimes are coldly justified .

"Absurd," said the President, to charges of American brutality, "The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world."

Secretary of War Rumsfeld, who deserves nothing but a jail cell, insisted: "No force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met than the men and women of the United States military."

They invoke their carefully constructed "plausible deniability" and insist it can't be so.

And meanwhile, they insist that everything the U.S. does is for lofty purposes of "freedom" (and of course has the blessing of their god himself).

America is (they say) a force for absolute moral good. And so, they argue, anything the "good guys" do to their enemies, no matter how brutal, must be accepted by the world.

And it must be willingly embraced by the American people, with silent acceptance and a sense of safety—or even moral righteousness.

What an upside-down and deceitful picture of the U.S., its history and its role in the world!

This country has always been the land of the thief and home of the slave. In a place built on such oppression and ruthless expansion, atrocities, including torture, are deeply built into the American Way of Life and the American Way of War—so much so, that this country fully deserves the name the United States of Torture.

How many Black men were castrated and then publicly burned alive?

How many youth were beaten yesterday in the back rooms of American police stations?

In 1861, Colorado's mounted militia swept into a village of "friendly" Cheyenne along Sand Creek— massacring hundreds of men, women and children. The soldiers rode home with their saddles decorated with breasts and private parts carved from their female victims. And then these gruesome "trophies" were proudly displayed in the public theater of Denver for all to see.

Who can argue that such brutalities were a rarity during the creation of these United States? Or that they are just in some distant past?

A whole generation can still remember how in 1971 a thousand prisoners stood up together in Attica's hellhole prison. And then came the horrible news that Governor Rockefeller's men had swept in, leaving dead prisoners and guards in their wake and, yes, torturing those they recaptured.

And that same generation remembers how some U.S. commandos returning from Vietnam brought necklaces of human ears as trophies.

Who can forget how Abner Louima was brutally raped by New York police in 1997, sending people into the streets carrying plungers ?

This so-called system of justice proclaims "equality before the law"—while it has, in reality, protected those who use atrocities to defend the system and its "way of life."

Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge tortured confessions out of Black men—by suffocation, electric shock and burning—for years! And yet he still lives out his retirement in comfort, unpunished.

A gang of white men tortured 15-year-old Emmett Till to death in 1955 for "whistling at a white woman." They were coldly acquitted by a racist court. Just this month Emmett's body was exhumed for a new examination — all because, fifty years after his death, there is still no justice!


And as America became an empire, all this homegrown brutality was systematized into an ugly art, and exported across the globe.

How many Vietnamese were questioned as a bayonet (slowly, slowly!) cut into their flesh?

How many torturers graduated from the U.S. Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning—and then did their grisly work in Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Honduras, and Argentina—or today in Colombia and Peru?

How many disappear without a trace into Bagram, Guantánamo and the CIA's out-sourced torture centers in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan?

Claiming a Mandate for Torture. Or What is an Election Good For?

After all those crimes over all the years, there is now something shockingly new.

The commanders and apologists of this empire insist that they are the champions of freedom—and at the same time they now often openly insist that torture is justified and necessary. And they accuse anyone who can't stomach it of flirting with treason.

John C. Yoo was the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the days after 9/11. He (with the new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) helped write a series of memos that said the U.S. could and should simply disregard all laws that forbid the torture of prisoners.

And now this same John Yoo argues: "President Bush's victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was proof that the debate is over. The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum."

There it is, in black-and-white. Debate over "the issue" of U.S. torture "is over," Yoo says. Global torture of captives has been legitimized by the last U.S. elections and (so he claims) by the people themselves .

It is now being done, openly, in our names. And it is intolerable.


When the story of Dilawar, the taxi driver, appeared on the front page of the New York Times , its vivid details had sent bitter tears down people's faces. And I felt it hard too, as I read what the U.S. Army had done.

And a comrade shared with me how the haunting lyrics of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol" kept moving through his head.

In that song, Bob Dylan describes one of those all-American atrocities. William Zantzinger, a rich tobacco farmer, took his cane and coldly killed Hattie Carol—a Black maid who had done him nothing.

And at each point in the awful story, Dylan cautions us to hold back our grief and weeping because something still more horrible, and deep, is yet to come.

And then, in his last verse, Dylan describes that final outrage. William Zantzinger walks out of that courtroom with a slap on the wrist—with all the weight of this system legitimizing him and his actions.

Dylan spits out his closing lines:

"Oh, but you who philosophize
disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears."

Here we now stand.

New horrors of American torture are leaking out, including the pictures of Abu Ghraib. The reality is there to be seen by everyone who dares to look.

And then here comes one more outrage:

They claim to do all this in our name . The election of Bush is openly celebrated as a mandate for that torture!

They claim that any debate or challenge over this is to be silenced— in our name! It cannot be allowed to stand.

Yes, now's truly the time for our tears.