The America He Knows

Bush went on al-Arabiya television on May 5th to tell the Arab public, “What took place in [Abu Gharaib] prison does not represent the America I know.” What is the America that he knows? “The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual. The America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom. Good, honorable citizens that are helping Iraqis every day.”

On December 19, 1990, Amnesty International released a report on abuses by the Iraqi army in Kuwait, notably the theft of incubators and the consequent murder of over three hundred babies (Amnesty later retracted the story about the incubators). On January 9, 1991, President Bush made much of this report in a public letter he wrote to gain support for Bush War I.

The US champions the human rights of the darker world, and sends out the Mid-West to liberate the Mid-East.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, they had to suppress other uncomfortable revelations. Amnesty International had also just released a report that went un-reported. Entitled “Allegations of Police Torture in Chicago, Ill.,” the report from December 1990 showed how the cops of police station Area 2 used barbaric methods against arrested black youth.

The Area 2 cops arrested a group of black men, such as Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Leonard Kidd, Derrick King, brother Reginald and Jeffery Mahaffey, Andrew Maxwell, Leroy Orange, Aaron Patterson, and the brothers Andrew and Jackie Wilson. Each of them detailed how police officers beat them, burnt them on hot radiators, smothered them with plastic bags and applied electric shocks to their genitalia.

We bombed Iraq to liberate Kuwait. No-one bombed the Area 2 police station. President Bush made no statement about this outrage.

In Bush War 2, Bush is disgusted by the events at Abu Gharaib, as he should be. But he is silent about the ceaseless reports of custodial violence, of rape and torture within our own prisons (as well as at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo). Here are a few examples from Human Rights Watch (2001):

… In July 1999, four guards at the Florida State Prison beat Frank Valdez to death. The guards beat Valdez with such brutality that his ribs broke and boot marks remained on his body. The guards claimed Valdez injured himself, but in February 2001, the state indicted them on murder charges.

… In June 2001, the state acquitted eight prison guards at California’s Corcoran State Prison who had been charged with staging gladiator-style fights among inmates. In November 1999, the state acquitted four other guards for setting up the rape of an inmate by another very violent prisoner.

… From December 1999, the following events took place in women’s prisons: the state indicted eleven former guards and a prison official on charges of sexually assaulting or harassing sixteen female prisoners at a county jail operated by a private corrections company; a jury convicted a New Mexico jail guard on federal civil rights charges stemming from the sexual assault of a prisoner; the state sentenced a New York guard to three years of probation after he pleaded guilty to sodomy of two female prisoners; the state sentenced an Ohio jail officer to a four year term for sexually assaulting three female prisoners.

… In South Dakota, the state faced a class action suit that charged the prisons with widespread physical abuse against juvenile girls detained at the State Training School. The suit charged that guards routinely shackled youths in spread-eagled fashion after cutting off their clothes, sprayed them with pepper spray while naked, and placed them in isolation for twenty-three hours each day.

When Bush was governor of Texas, he not only signed the final orders to execute 152 prisoners in five years, but his prisons, for example, held women in “detention trailers” in the summer heat with no water (as documented by Court TV in 1999), or else his prison guards sexually assaulted prisoners, beat them, forced them to crawl in the dirt, set dogs upon them and shot at them with stun guns (as documented by the Texas Prison Labor Union and other outfits).

The prison guards within and without US are guilty of sadism and brutality, but they are not alone. The political leadership sanctifies these acts with its reduction of the humanity of certain people to criminal and terrorist. We are trained to forget that people for complex reasons resort to criminal acts or to the tactic of terrorism.

If people are evildoers or terrorists to the core, if their very being is forged by evil, then the only way to deal with them is by brutality or execution: there is no rehabilitation, no negotiation, no political solution. Such an approach to the world is not Christian, even as Bush says that he consults regularly with Jesus, but it is Manichean – a heresy in the eyes of institutionalized Christianity.

The social conditions that produce criminality or terrorism become irrelevant to the worldview that elevates the tactic of criminality or terror into the state of a people’s nature. To stop the tactic of terror, the government needs to move to the political front and concede more than it is willing. This is why the government (enthusiastically by Bush, reluctantly by Kerry) makes demons of our adversaries and tries to bomb them into oblivion or submission, to pacify them or contain them.

Imperial pedagogy uses aerial bombardment and prison sadism to keep the darker nations in check. The Pentagon has learnt well from the British: “Although only a few desperate criminals are now prepared to resist the police, whole sections of the tribes might assist their criminal relatives against the police were it not for the threat of aeroplanes bombing them” (1930).

Brutality within the US is well known among the contingent class, which is very literate about the ways of power. The America they know is sadistic and mean, harsh and brutal – the freedom they know is the freedom from the Constitution and its protections.

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