"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." So says a popular childhood jingle. But anyone who has ever studied communications will quickly realize that this expression is only partially correct.
In virtually all communications situations (aside from intrapersonal communication) there is a sender and a receiver or receivers. After the sender transmits the message, the receiver interprets it, and then can decide whether to accept or reject it. Through this process, receivers cannot be "hurt" (i.e. offended or insulted) by words unless they allow themselves to be.
But the receiver has absolutely no control over the sender's attitudes or intentions, and therein resides the danger. By substituting passive, innocuous sounding words or phrases for more active, venomous ones, the sender is often capable of engaging in acts of extreme cruelty with little or no remorse. For example, in "street gang" slang nobody is ever murdered. They are "wasted, dusted, iced," or "have a cap busted in them."
Organized crime jargon works in a similar manner. An intended murder victim is usually called "the client, the mark, or the target," and the agreement to kill "the client" is not called conspiracy to commit murder, but simply "a contract.”
Nowhere is this substitution strategy of communication used more prevalently than in the military. In military terminology a bomb that destroys a building and/or kills hundreds of people has "serviced the target," making the whole transaction sound akin to somebody delivering a pizza. The area where combat is occurring is not called, "a killing zone," nor "a battlefield," but a "theater," giving the perception that all the combatants will eventually emerge unharmed and be greeted by thunderous applause.
"Collateral damage" is the idiom used to describe the maiming and slaughter of innocent civilians. And in recent weeks, a new phrase has emerged to describe the torture and sexual abuse of prisoners--"aggressive interrogation."
This communication strategy is particularly effective in the United States for two primary reasons: The first is because America has not had a war fought upon its soil for over a century. So most Americans have never had the misfortune to live in the heart of war's "theater" and to see first-hand the broken bodies of women and children who have been "collaterally damaged." Since "enemies" of the United States have traditionally been maimed and killed in lands hundreds or thousands of miles away, this has, as the late comedian Lenny Bruce once opined, given Americans a deceptive sense of moral superiority, because they never have been compelled to witness the atrocities committed by their leaders.
The second reason is because the government of the United States has rarely had to do its own killing. One of the most perceptive articles recently published in PRAVDA, and one that should be required reading throughout the world, was Bill Phillips' AMERICAN ATROCITIES--NOTHING NEW. In this article, Phillips succinctly discusses how frequently America has fought wars "by proxy," by supporting coups that have placed brutal dictators into power (including, ironically, America's former ally Saddam Hussein), by training rapists, murderers and torturers in "low intensity warfare" at facilities such as the former "School of the Americas," and by supplying weapons, torture devices and other tactical support to notorious violators of human rights. By insulating itself through these third parties, the American government has for years been able to advertise itself as a bastion of support for human rights, and feign indignation when such rights were violated. But the war against Iraq, and the torture and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib prison has suddenly exploded this facade.
The hypocrisy of the United States government can best be evidenced by
its "two sets of laws"--one applied to "common" criminals and one applied to
"officially sanctioned" criminals.
Most people in America are familiar with the infamous "Helter Skelter" murders, committed in 1969 by members of the Charles Manson "family." Throughout his years of incarceration, Manson has persistently argued that his sentence is unjust because "he did not kill anybody." Yet, under the law applied to "common" criminals, his encouraging or instigating the murders warranted the same legal penalties as if he had actually participated in them.
Manson has also argued that simply because he told his followers to commit the murders does not necessarily mean they had to obey him. Yet, again under the law applied to "common" criminals, Manson encounters the doctrine of "foreseeability." Simply put, if an individual engages in or encourages an activity or activities where it is foreseeable that others may be hurt or killed, then that individual is equally culpable for any crimes that may result.
Yet these same arguments could be raised to demand that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld not only resign, but that he, and others of his ilk, be tried as war criminals for their role in the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld, after all, may not have engaged in any actual torture, but his approval of "aggressive interrogations" certainly made itforeseeable. And this foreseeability argument is enhanced by the United States government's own admission that many of the personnel at Abu Ghraib prison were poorly trained. But Rumsfeld's "penalty" will undoubtedly be, like so many "officially sanctioned" criminals before him, a hefty government pension and a life of luxury.
These "two sets of laws" are also evident in the way the United States government is treating those accused of abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the way it is treating those labeled "enemy combatants." The accused abusers are enjoying the right to due process and the right to counsel, demonstrating that those who rape and torture in the name of America will be provided all the legal protections America has to offer. And even if any of them are found guilty and sent to prison, they will serve a determinate sentence and have a clear idea of when they will be released.
But the Bush dictatorship currently has the power to detain United States citizens, like Jose Padilla, incommunicado, in perpetuity, and without access to legal counsel or due process of law, simply by labeling them "enemy combatants."
In the coming weeks or months, it will be interesting to see how far the venality, deceits and hypocrisy of the Bush dictatorship will extend. Already the accused abusers at Abu Ghraib are asserting the "I was just following orders" defense. If this defense did not work at the Nuremberg trials, nor for former East German border guards, then why should it work for torture that was signed, sealed and delivered by the United States.
But, given the Charles Manson/Donald Rumsfeld analogy above, it is doubtful
that true justice will ever be done, or that the true criminals will ever be brought to trial. And with the veil of "secrecy" surrounding the detentions of persons like Padilla, Americans might have an Abu Ghraib style prison right within its own borders and not even know it.
Although Rumsfeld and others have attempted to label the abuses at Abu Ghraib "isolated" and "un-American," Mr. Phillips' article correctly points out that rape and other forms of sexual abuse are so prevalent in many, if not most, American prisons that they make Abu Ghraib look like a country club.
As a recent report by Human Rights Watch disclosed, inmates in American prisons may be sexually abused for years, and the abuse may involve any number of aggressors. Prison personnel often appease more dangerous inmates by allowing them to force weaker inmates into becoming sex slaves, and unruly offenders are sometimes punished by housing them with violent, sexually aggressive cellmates. And given the high rates of HIV infections in prison, even a short prison term could turn into a death sentence.
Undoubtedly there are some, perhaps many, (like the American soldier who replied, "Who cares," when asked about the abuse at Abu Ghraib) who will argue that rape and other forms of sexual abuse are all part of the risk one takes when committing crimes or engaging in insurgency. But this ignores several facts: 1). That the Red Cross recently reported that 70% to 90% of those held at Abu Ghraib did not belong there, and that many were simply caught up in broad "sweeps" of neighborhoods; 2). That most inmates sexually tortured in United States prisons are non-violent offenders; 3). That the criminal justice system is extremely fallible, and the risk of innocent people being sexually abused is significant. In Texas, for example, an inmate named Richard Danziger refused his cellmate's sexual advances, and was "punished" by having his head slammed into the wall numerous times. Left with permanent brain damage, Danziger was later discovered to be innocent. In Florida, another innocent inmate was left HIV positive after being gang-raped in the shower.
Yet one positive aspect to the revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib is that it has forced Bush supporters to develop some ludicrous arguments that serve to expose them for the hypocrites they are. Some have said that, "Well American torture isn't as bad as ‘Saddam' torture." But when no weapons of mass destruction (WMBs) were found, did not Bush, and his lying hand-puppet British Prime Minister Tony Blair, endeavor to justify the war on "moral, human rights" grounds? To paraphrase a popular saying, "with morality like Bush's, who needs immorality."
Others have pointed to the execution of Nicholas Berg. But this argument was largely decimated when Berg's own family blamed the policies of Bush and Rumsfeld for Berg's murder, and claimed that the Bush dictatorship may have even indirectly facilitated Berg's death by keeping him in custody until it was too late for him to safely leave Iraq.
In two previous articles for PRAVDA, (BUSH VS. HITLER) and (BUSH VS. HITLER, PART II), I compared the dictatorship of George W. Bush to that Of Adolph Hitler's. These articles were written prior to the revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Several "conservative" websites, in attacking my thesis, pointed to this one sentence, "[O]ne must wonder if history would have been so radically different if George W. Bush and his war-crazed cronies were in power in 1938 Berlin instead of 2004 America," as an example of an "extreme" viewpoint.
But today, when one looks at the legacy of George W. Bush and his cabal of warmongers, perhaps even critics might agree that this sentence is not so "extreme" after all. Besides usurping democracy by stealing the election in the coup of 2000, the Bush dictatorship has waged an illegal war; engaged in outright lies to both the American people and the world to wage this war; condoned or ignored torture; and decimated the Bill of Rights, all while allegedly acting within the parameters of America's "check-and-balance" system. Imagine what havoc Bush and his warmongers would have wrought in 1938 Germany, where no "check-and-balance" system was in place.
Some say the mark of true evil is not in the sadistic acts one does, but in having the power to encourage or inspire others to engage in such acts. If that is true, then one need only look to Lynndie England and her supposed antithesis, Jessica Lynch, to gauge the depth of the Bush dictatorship's depravity.
Lynch was the fair-haired "damsel in distress," when, in the ratings hungry eyes of the corporate-controlled media, the Iraqi war was an antiseptic, bloodless crusade being fought by knights in shining armor.
But the cigarette-smoking, penis-pointing, dog leash carrying England whether following orders or not) is the paradigm of the real war, the real Bush and the real chickenhawk neo-conservatives, whose idea of "Pax Americana" is not simply a dog leash around an Iraqi prisoner's neck, but an imperialist leash around the world.
I normally like to conclude my articles with some type of quotation or thought that will linger with the reader. But this time I thought I would end with an analogy regarding the dichotomy between heroism in wartime, and heroism in peacetime.
Recently a former National Football League (NFL) player named Pat Tillman left the sport to join the military and was killed in action in Afghanistan. In a tribute to his sacrifice, Tillman's former team immediately placed him in its "Ring of Honor." Contrast this with the reception given to another former NFL player, Joe Delaney, whom I first wrote about in an article entitled THE IDEAL PARADIGM (PRAVDA, 11/10/03). In 1983, Delaney attempted to rescue three children who were drowning in a nearby pond. He managed to save one child before drowning himself. It took twenty-one years for him to be placed in his former team's "Ring of Honor."
The moral of the story is simple: In the United States one apparently cannot attain immediate hero status unless engaged in war. How ironic this is, particularly since the founder of Christianity, supposedly the most practiced religion in America, once said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." I wonder what He is thinking now?
David R. Hoffman,
Legal Editor of PRAVDA
and Former Communications