Page 5


ROCKS & THE CULT RE Torture American Style BY JAMES E. MCWILLIAMS American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond By Michael Otterman Pluto Press, May 2007 224 pages, $19.95 0 n March 27, The New York Times reported that Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks, a 31-year-old Australian with some al-Qaida training, had pleaded guilty to supporting a terrorist organization. It was the first conviction of a Guantanamo detainee under the new military commission law passed by Congress, and is sure to be offered by the Bush administration as proof that its effort to try terrorism suspects from Guantanamo is working. The Times’ initial report was notably brief. “Mr. Hicks,” the piece blandly concluded, “has been detained for more than five years.” What happened during those five years? The answer can be found in Michael Otterman’s American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. It’s a powerful book that provides a comprehensive overview of torture tactics practiced by U.S. agencies from 1950 to the present, and offers critical background on Hicks’ case. Hicks was a spiritually ambivalent soul seeker from Adelaide who, before converting to Islam in 2000, skinned kangaroos in a meat factory, trained horses in Japan, and fought for the Kosovo Liberation Army on the U.S. side. After moving to Pakistan to study Arabic, he wrote letters home that read like a giddy college sophomore living abroad. “My best adventure yet,” he once exclaimed. “I have seen so many things and places.” By 2001 he was in Afghanistan, flirting with a more extreme faith and, somewhat haplessly, training with the Taliban. When the United States invaded, troops captured the 115-pound Hicks \(who was guardhad long wanted to leave the Taliban but was “stuck were I was,” and removed him to a U.S. ship. Then they had their way with him. It was pure hell. Aboard the ship he was, according to Otterman, “spat upon, beaten, kicked and called ‘an Aussie Kangaroo:” Beatings lasted up to 10 hours. Upon arrival at GITMO, he was, according to affidavits, forced to swallow unidentified medication, deprived of sleep, turned over to men who slammed his head into the pavement while he was blindfolded, and offered the services of a prostitute if he spied on other prisproved a mere warm-up. Hicks spent more than a year alone in a metal cage, an experience that left him “teetering on the edge of losing my sanity,” as he wrote his dad. Recently Hicks sent another letter to his father in which he explained, “I’ve reached the point where I’m highly confused and lost…. I can no longer picture what happens outside. … My entire world has become this little room.” This is the David Hicks who agreed to a plea deal on March 26. It was not the same David Hicks who had once gallivanted with the Taliban. That man had been broken. Torture will do that. But torture is not something average Americans think their country abides. Government sanctioned beatings of human beings into submission happens elsewhere, in barbaric places with tyrannical regimes. Of course, those who have not heard of Hicks certainly remember Abu Ghraib. In the wake of Abu Ghraib, President Bush rushed to correct any harmful misconceptions. He twitched, smirked, and reassured us that the images of torture being seared into the world’s consciousness were, in fact, the sadistic handiwork of a few scofflaws. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld concurred, decrying the tactics of Lynndie England and Charles Granertactics that seemed to relish sexual humiliation as “un-American” and “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Given the values that Rumsfeld evokedrule of law, liberty, justice, and respect for basic natural rightsone might give the administration the benefit of the doubt and legitimately conclude that both Abu Ghraib and the less-publicized Hicks’ case were sad anomalies on an otherwise clean national rap sheet. As Otterman demonstrates, however, torture is and has been at the core of our national security endeavors for a very long time. Contemporary manifestations of American torture have their origin in the Cold War. Early attempts to devise means of pacifying captives into submission began with CIA research into mind control. Tests with LSD and THC, the active ingredient in pot, aimed to counter whatever “truth serum” Soviets were evidently using to compromise secret agents. These efforts categorically bonked, often with comical results. After CIA agents laced the cigarettes of seven military officers with THC in the 1950s, it reported how “the sense of humor is accentuated to the point where any statement or situation can become extremely funny to the subject?’ Rather than the desired id leakage that is, an overspillage of unexpurgated truththe CIA. got “great loquacity and hilarity?’ Whatever envy one might feel for the officers turned into giggle boxes, the CIA wasn’t always so kooky. The dosing of over 7,000 unwitting soldiers in Maryland with LSD warrants greater concern, especially given that most were black, deemed “of not too high mentality,” and dosed only after a plan to leech LSD into a city’s water supply was scotched. By the 1960s, methods became sophisticated enough to warrant acronyms. The CIA worked closely with Army Special Forces to establish SERE \(Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 20, 2007