Thursday, December 15, 2005
We used to hear quite a bit, and no doubt will hear more in the future about official enemies torturing their own people (the implication being that torturing Others, as the CIA did, was perfectly natural). Well, forget about that for a second: are you still shocked by this? Click on the link, and watch the video of a BBC4 documentary that shows US prison guards torturing prisoners - in some cases to death. If the treatment of these prisoners is disgusting, you won't be able to contain your revulsion at the rhetorical strategies used to justify this behaviour. The prisoners, some of them mentally ill, are dehumanised beyond belief; the Sherrif in charge of the revolting prison in Phoenix takes pleasure in putting the prisoners down and hearing of how tough his regime is; some of the prison guards display lumpen arrogance and conceit.
If for any reason you can't watch the video, there's a brief synopsis by the documentary's author, Deborah Davies, on the site:
The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’
If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.
Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.
Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.
Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.
The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.
And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.
But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas.
And so how can this be surprising, given the kind of state we are discussing? How can Abu Ghraib be a surprise? We knew that the CIA had been using torture for decades. We knew that the US government was prepared to murder its own citizens - in Waco, on Ruby Ridge, in John Africa's community, and now also in New Orleans. The cops shoot people to death quite frequently, as they are increasingly doing in the UK. There were reports of torture and ritual beatings in the US before. But it's the first time I've ever seen it on video footage. And it needs to be said, and repeated and amplifed: the US government tortures its own people. And some are prepared to trust these people, these sociopaths, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Haiti?