Torquemada on the Potomac

Mr. Bush would like you to know that America does not torture.

You might hear a different story, though, if you ask the journalist Sami al-Hajj, also known as Internee #345. Al-Hajj is a Sudanese national currently being held in Guantanamo, which has been his home since being arrested by the US in December 2001. Mr. Al-Hajj is a journalist with the Al Jazeera network.

While being held in Guantanamo, Mr. Al-Hajj has been beaten, starved, and sexually tortured. Because of the physical abuse he has received at the hands of United States interrogators, he can no longer flex his knees. A doctor prescribed a special toilet seat for this condition, but officials have now removed it in order to humiliate him. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mr. Al-Hajj’s throat cancer, in remission since 1998, has returned, but he is being denied medical treatment.

It may surprise you to learn that no one thinks Mr. Al-Hajj is a terrorist. He has never been charged with terrorism. The Bush administration does not believe him to be in any way involved with terrorism or pose a risk. We know this because the administration has already promised him immediate release on one condition—if he were to spy on Al Jazeera. It is unclear how, even in a misreading of the Constitution worthy of Scalia, the United States can assert the right to detain and torture a foreign national for not being a spy.

According to Clive Stafford’s book on Guantanamo, Mr. Al-Hajj was not picked up by mistake, but rather for the express purpose of turning him into an informant against a television network Mr. Bush deemed hostile. Mr. Al-Hajj actually asked to be interrogated about what he was accused of having done.

To protest, and perhaps to end, his 6-year incarceration in this Kafkaesque nightmare, Mr. Al-Hajj is engaging in a hunger strike. The US now roughly and forcibly inserts a feeding into his nose daily and force-feeds Mr. Al-Hajj in order to avoid the embarrassment of having a Guantanamo prisoner starve to death. According to Mr. Al-Hajj’s lawyer, this tube sometimes is smeared with the blood of other Guantanamo inmates also being force fed.

This is what the United States has become.

The roots of torture in America are a deep part of our culture. Even before we were a nation, the Salem Witch Trials provided an outlet for American sexual sadists to strip, hurt, and torture women while pretending to protect the security of their neighbors. The DSM-IV defines sexual sadism as a replacement of normal sexual gratification with pleasure derived only by the infliction of pain; put simply, sexual sadists can only become aroused by cries of pain rather than passion, by hitting rather than fucking. Make no mistake about it--what happened in Abu Ghraib has deep psychological roots in our culture.

What is happening this very day in Guantanamo is part of this American sickness. Everyone else in the world see us for what we truly are; most Americans, as repressed and incurious as ever, have little idea what is being done in their name. Ask yourself this question, and answer honestly: Had you ever heard of Sami Al-Hajj before reading this?

It is all well and good to say that when those who authorized and operated Guantanamo become prisoners themselves, in US prisons facing charges with lawyers at their sides, then justice will be done. It is all well and good to say that when the cowardly judges who have abdicated their duties and their souls by deferring in every way to the evils of the Bush administration are removed from their positions and disbarred, then justice will be done.

But in reality, it is already too late. The new face of Uncle Sam is the hood of the torturer.


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