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News & Analysis

America’s Self-Image and Its Ugly Reality

Torture is one of the monuments of the “shining city on the hill”
Tahir Mustafa

Myths form an important part of every society’s self-image. Most myths can be ignored as irrelevant to the rest of the world even if they are considered essential for their peddlers to massage their inflated egos.

In the US and its sidekick Zionist Israel, these have assumed alarmingly racist and militaristic tones and pose a “clear and present danger” to the world. Such American myths as “Manifest Destiny” and “shining city on the hill” have now morphed into “American exceptionalism.” America can do no wrong even when it murders millions of innocent people including children.

In an interview for the program “60 Minutes” of US channel CBS, Leslie Stahl asked then US ambassador to the UN Madelaine Albright whether the starvation of 560,000 Iraqi children to death because of US sanctions was justified? This is what Albright said, “I think it’s worth it” (May 12, 1996). She was serving the Democratic regime of Bill Clinton and went on to become secretary of state!

The Zionist monstrosity peddles the myth that God promised them the Holy Land. God did no such thing, at least not to hustlers and thieves. Zionist Israel is a colonial squatter entity that has occupied by force the land of the Palestinian people. It continues its inexorable expansionist drive in which more and more Palestinian land is usurped to settle illegal squatters from Europe and North America.

Let us, however, return to the case of the US, the “exceptional power” that can do no wrong. When it tortures people, it refuses to even acknowledge that it indulges in such an abominable practice that constitutes a war crime. “We don’t do torture,” in the infamous words of Robert Gates, the former CIA Director under George W. Bush, when confronted to explain why prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan were tortured. Donald Rumsfeld, the equally notorious secretary of defence (offence) rebranded torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Kidnapping became “extraordinary rendition.” The doublespeak goes on ad nauseum. Does it make it kosher if torture and kidnappings are called by any other name?

There are many skeletons in America’s closet. From the torture chambers of Bagram in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib in Baghdad all the way to Guantanamo Bay, American misdemeanors are like sequences in a never-ending horror movie. Guantanamo inmates have been virtually forgotten.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, justification for such crimes was provided by a wide array of opinion-makers ranging from right-wing think tanks to mainstream media outlets. The line between left and right wing opinion was obliterated. Here is a typical reaction from the Washington Post of September 13, 2001, that was uniformly echoed by all segments of the media,

If replying to that attack is truly to become an organizing principle of US policy, as we believe it should — if the United States is to undertake the difficult and sustained campaign against those who threaten it — then neither politics nor diplomacy can return to where they were… This is most of all true as Congress and others discuss the possible need to sacrifice privacy, freedom of movement, or other liberties to the needs of domestic security.

Few in the US establishment ever called for a proper investigation into who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. To question the official narrative is to be accused of indulging in conspiracy theories yet there are gaping holes in the official account not least as to how three buildings would collapse on their own footprint. The 49-storey Building No. 7 was not even hit by any plane yet it crumbled on its footprint a few hours after the other two towers collapsed.

In the nearly eight years since 9/11 and with the horrors of Guantanamo coming out into the open, Barack Obama upon assuming office in 2009, announced he would close the torture camp in one year. Eight years later and while Gitmo still open and running, his successor Donald Trump said, “throw the key away” and let the inmates rot. They have not been charged with any crime much less put on trial in any credible court of law to prove their wrongdoing.

This screen shot of the Guantanamo captive Abu Zubaydah was taken from a video interview he made sometime between the 9/11 attacks and his capture on 3-28-2002 by US intelligence agents in Faisalabad, Pakistan. The Palestinian, whose real name is Zayn al-‘Abidin Muhammad Al Husayn, represents the guinea pig in the CIA’s post-9/11 “interrogation” program. According to his first FBI interrogator, “In a way, it was the original sin that led to the institutionalization of the so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques… I do not recall a case during the war on terror years that contained more elements of deceit and exaggerations aimed to promote the ill-conceived torture program like the case of Abu Zubaydah.”

In May, Trump appointed Gina Haspel as director of the CIA. She was in charge of a black site in Thailand where people kidnapped by Americans were taken and tortured. Three people in particular — Abu Zubaydah, ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad — were repeatedly water-boarded, according to CIA Director Michael Hayden in February 2008 (New York Times, January 19, 2017). Each one was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month. Haspel videotaped the 2002 waterboarding sessions of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri but three years later, she had all such videos destroyed, without notifying or seeking permission from her superiors.

Rumsfeld insisted waterboarding was not torture because it did not kill anyone. Dick Cheney, who served as George Bush’s vice president, insisted waterboarding and other forms of torture worked to extract information (forced confessions) from detainees. FBI operatives disagreed and insisted that Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were not the high profile terrorists projected by Bush and company and they yielded little valuable information.

Even the New York Times, no friend of Muslims, editorially castigated the CIA for waterboarding and subjecting Abu Zubaydah to other forms of cruel torture. In an editorial titled “A Stark Reminder of Guantanamo’s Sins” (August 25, 2016), the NY Times wrote,

It is haunting, maddening even, to revisit the facts of Abu Zubaydah’s time in American custody more than 14 years after he was detained in Pakistan in the frenzied period following the Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner known to have been waterboarded by the Central Intelligence Agency, loomed large in America’s imagination for years as the personification of evil.

Describing the tactics “employed during years of national panic about terrorism” as “shameful,” the paper urged reinvigorated efforts to close the prison. Bush believed that Abu Zubaydah was the operations head of al-Qaeda. He singled him out in a 2006 speech, calling him a “senior terrorist leader.” Using the terrorist bogey, Bush and his officials argued that Abu Zubaydah and men like him fully justified the facility at Guantanamo as well as a secret web of prisons run by the CIA. Yet the New York Times had a different take on it,

Years later, it became clear that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t a top figure in al-Qaeda after all. It also became clear that he had willingly provided insights into terrorist groups when he was interrogated by FBI agents, who treated him cordially. By the time he was turned over to the CIA, his knowledge about threats to the United States appears to have been largely exhausted. Yet agency personnel insisted on the need for torture, waterboarding him at least 83 times and subjecting him to other cruelty.

Never charged and never tried, Abu Zubaydah has also never been allowed to speak publicly about his ordeal. His American abusers have never been held to account.

This is not the rant of some al-Qaeda sympathizer; these are the words of a newspaper that represents the American establishment.

During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Trump had publicly vowed to not only keep the Guantanamo Bay torture camp open but, that if elected, he would authorize far worse torture than water-boarding. This is part of Trump’s plan to make “America great again,” a claim contested by a number of Americans, among them Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York state.

Sixty years ago (1958) when William Lederer and Eugene Burdick published their novel, The Ugly American, they would not have imagined in their wildest dreams that one day the ugliest American would occupy the White House. The novel was based on real-life examples of American diplomats serving in Southeast Asia leading to the Vietnam War and America’s subsequent debacle. The novel sold millions of copies and was translated into many languages.

Trump of course insists that he is not only a “stable genius” but that he is perhaps the “most handsome American” ever to occupy the White House!

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 7

Dhu al-Hijjah 21, 14392018-09-01

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