American Blasphemy: Centurions of the Black Room

abu ghraib crucifixion.jpg

'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the
least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
Matthew 25:31-40

They call themselves Christians, even as they continue to torture and kill. They tell us there's a "clash of civilizations" while our military beats, burns, shocks, and torments innocent and guilty alike. They shoot paintball guns at their wounded victims and laugh, burying the dead ones and dumping the living ones out into the cold desert night.

Their Christian leaders swear allegiance to the cross, which represents God as a victim of state torture in an occupied land. No doubt some of them wear crosses around their necks as they sign the memos, requisition the hoods and paintball guns and dogs, and conceal the acts they claim to carry out in the name of their Savior.

In the torture chamber known as the Black Room, their motto was "No blood, no foul" - because there was no evidence of the crime if the victims didn't bleed. The General who conducted the pseudo-investigation (aka cover up) was the same general who appeared before a fundamentalist Christian group in full dress uniform, mocking Islam and boasting "My God is bigger than their God."

They claim allegiance to a martyr but imitate the behavior of his killers. As with any torture, the real blame doesn't lie with the soldiers carrying out orders but with the officers and leaders giving orders - America's military and civilian "Christian" leaders: the brutal centurions of a 21st Century empire.

"I tremble for my country if God is just," said Thomas Jefferson.

You don't have to be a Christian or a religious person to believe in the reality of human evil. Any system of ethics, religious or secular, condemns our acts of torture as just such an evil. Yet these atrocities are so common under this government very little notice was given to the recent New York Times article on that American-run brutality hole known as the Black Room.

Torture groupies like Alan Dershowitz, Charles Krauthammer, and Tony Blankley will no doubt celebrate our actions in that chamber. They probably won't be dissuaded by the facts, either. "Despite the task force's access to a wide range of intelligence its raids were often dry holes," writes the Times, "yielding little if any intelligence and alienating ordinary Iraqis."

The pro-torture gang's reaction to this type of information is usually to explain to the rest of us why we're "naïve," despite the fact that intelligence experts agree with our strategic assessment of the practice. No matter- they'll keep repeating in their labored and condescending language that torture is necessary in today's world, as if our moral and strategic perspective was a form of learning disability.

And "alienating ordinary Iraqis" is a euphemism for, "made new terrorists out of them." What the torture groupies fail to comprehend - perhaps because of emotional needs that compel them to support the "manliness" of the practice - is that it's counterproductive. It provides bad information, as most intelligence experts agree, and creates more enemies.

But here's the biggest problem with it: By any ethical standard you can imagine, religious or secular, it's profoundly wrong. And it's systematic - make no mistake about it.

Despite Undersecretary Stephen Cambone feigned distress when an admiral presented evidence of the torture. "Get to the bottom of this immediately ... not acceptable" was scribbled on his CYA memo, as if the practice was a surprise to him. Yet somebody had been signing off on the requisitions for the tools of torture - including the paintball guns that inspired their name, "The High Five Paintball Club," and the requisitions continued to get signed.

Here's a placard, which was kept in full public view:

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Soldiers who "graduated" from the Black Room were given going-away gifts in a "ceremony": a piece of tile from the room where Saddam Hussein had been held - and a detainee hood.

If Cambone had wanted to uncover the truth, he would not have turned the investigation over to Gen. William "Big God" Boynkin, who had already violated military regulations when he gave that theocratic speech about Islam (without any repercussions of note). And guess what? Boynkin now says "at the time he told Mr. Cambone he had found no pattern of misconduct with the task force."

He saw nothing ... nothing ...

Our "leaders" will claim that some of the torture victims were genuine terrorists, but we'll never know. Certainly enough of them were innocent that the unit established a routine practice for releasing the lucky ones who survived and didn't get sent to Abu Ghraib: they drove them far out into the desert in the dark of night, gave them $100 dollars for their trouble, and dumped them.

It's not unlike what some serial rapists do: rape the woman, throw cash at her as if she were a hooker, and dump her out of the car.

They say that the unit was working to capture Al-Zarqawi, which - as we now know - Saddam Hussein was also trying to do. So they failed. All that horror, with nothing to show for it. And the Republican administration and its friends can't claim ignorance: helicopters continued to drop new victims off there daily during and after the worldwide controversy over Abu Ghraib.

The government will claim that the soldiers running the operations were "rogues" violating orders, although the torture went on despite objections from career FBI and CIA personnel. They'll point to their claims that disciplinary action occurred, but not to the fact that the room was kept open, the paintball guns were kept full, that the waterboardings and beatings and burnings went on ... and on ... and on ... for the innocent as well as the guilty.

Counting the torture victims, their friends, and family, there are now thousands of Middle Easterners with reasons to thirst for revenge against our soldiers - and us. The world has one more reason to despise us as torturers and hypocrites. And as for General McChrystal, who ran the division that conducted the torture? Per the Times, he "received his third star in a promotion ceremony at Fort Bragg on March 13."

Welcome to "Christian America" in the 21st Century.

A Night Light