A rather naive, but still powerful essay……

The Stain of Torture

By Burton J. Lee III

Friday, July 1, 2005; Page A25

Having served as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps early in my career and as presidential physician to George H.W. Bush for four years, I might be expected to bring a skeptical and partisan perspective to allegations of torture and abuse by U.S. forces. I might even be expected to join those who, on the one hand, deny that U.S. personnel have engaged in systematic use of torture while, on the other, claiming that such abuse is justified. But I cannot do so.

…. I am also deeply disturbed by the reported complicity in these abuses of military medical personnel. This extraordinary shift in policy and values is alien to my concept of modern-day America and of my government and profession.

Lee is not familiar with US army history, else he might have realized that torture has been the norm since our army has engaged in a its many colonial campaigns in the last century or so. From the “water cure” of the Philippines to the prisons of Baghdad, nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Indeed, prior to this campaign, and based on this long history of extracurricular activity, and of course, know that in occupations, especially hostile ones with open guerilla fighting, armies tend to lose their moral compass and become increasingly violent, barbaric, and contemptuous of human rights, I predicted this would occur soon after the war began.

Lee offers a couple of paragraphs of background as to why he thinks the military would not engage in torture. Basically, because the people he knew at the White House would not do so. Guess what, Burton: they don’t send the cream of the crop to jails behind the front.

Today, however, it seems as though our government and the military have slipped into Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” The widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment — frequently based on military and government documents — defy the claim that this abusive behavior is limited to a few noncommissioned officers at Abu Ghraib or isolated incidents at Guantanamo Bay. When it comes to torture, the military’s traditional leadership and discipline have been severely compromised up and down the chain of command. Why? I fear it is because the military has bowed to errant civilian leadership.

This is complete nonsense. The military tortures because it is the military: it has complete power and it is not accountable to outsiders. As troops fight they become inured to death and pain, and consequently, begin to do things unimaginable to mortals not in the ranks. EB Sledge writes in With the Old Breed, probably the greatest American memoir of combat service in the war:

[the squad has come across a Japanese position, wiped out. One of the dead Japanese is upright and on his knees, the top of his head neatly taken off] “As we talked, I noticed a fellow mortarman sitting next to me. He held a handful of coral pebbles in his left hand. With his right hand he idly tossed them into the open skull of the Japanese machine gunner. Each time pitch was true I heard a little splash of rainwater in the ghastly receptacle. My buddy tossed the coral chunks as casually as a boy casting pebbles into puddle on some muddy road back home; there was nothing malicious in his action. The war had so brutalized us that it was beyond belief.” (p123)

Lee natters on:

Our medical code of ethics requires us to oppose torture wherever it is inflicted, for any reason. Guided by this ethic, I served as a volunteer with the international group MEDICO in 1963, taking care of people who had been tortured by the French during Algeria’s civil war. I remain deeply affected by that experience today — by the people I tried to help and could not, and by their families, which suffered the most terrible grief. I heard the victims’ stories, examined their permanently broken bodies and looked into faces that could not see me because of the irreparable damage done not only to their senses but also to their brains. As I have studied reports of torture throughout our troubled world since then, I have always found comfort in knowing that at least it did not occur here, not among Americans.

Lee is ignorant of our Army’s shameful history in the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam….all of our occupations have been characterized by torture and other forms of misbehavior. In Germany American troops ran amok. There were so many capital cases — rape was a serious problem — that the Americans had to borrow an executioner from the Brits. As Weintraub notes in The Last Great Victory:

In France and Germany, American troops were proving so undependable at policing areas to remove unexplodred ammunition and abandoned weapons that German officers were sent out the German troops to do the job. Americans perserved only long enough to collect souvenirs, or booty to black market, often merely to purchase sex, and afterwards refused hazardous duty. “Us do such dangerous work? We won the war, didn’t we?”

Now that comfort is shattered. Reports of torture by U.S. forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. These new guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees.

Hooray for this!