Support the Good Guys

It’s one of the basic tenets of U.S. war propaganda that “we” are the good guys. It’s always U.S. vs. Them: the evildoers…and no matter what our boys do to take on such monsters, we at home must always support the troops.

The next time you hear the “support the troops” bullshit, I suggest you remember that it usually means two things: 1. Support the policy that put the troops there in the first place 2. Ignore what those troops might be doing

The home of the brave claims it does not approve of torture as policy. For example, the State Department criticizes the Burmese military because it has “routinely subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient.” Cambodia has received condemnation due to “torture, beatings, and other forms of physical mistreatment of persons held in police or military custody continued to be a serious problem throughout the country.” In China, “police and other elements of the security apparatus employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners.” Out of Egypt comes “numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated citizens.” In Greece, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka…well, you get the idea. Across the globe, human rights are nothing more than a convenient issue to be bandied about by amoral leaders when a pretext for sanctions or war is needed.

What about the land of the free? According to a brand new report from Human Rights Watch (, the US in Afghanistan is “maintaining a system of arrests and detention as part of its ongoing military and intelligence operations that violates international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” This system, says the report, calls into question U.S. “commitment to upholding basic rights.”

Stop me if you’ve heard it all before…

As Operation Enduring Freedom (sic) endures, the troops we’re supposed to be supporting, no matter what, are doing things like this to detainees who’ve been denied POW status:

“Bright lights were set up outside their cells, shining in, and U.S. military personnel took shifts, keeping the detainees awake by banging on the metal walls of their cells with batons. The detainees said they were terrified and disoriented by sleep deprivation, which they said lasted for several weeks. During interrogations, they said, they were made to stand upright for lengthy periods of time with a bright spotlight shining directly into their eyes. They were told that they would not be questioned until they remained motionless for one hour, and that they were not entitled even to turn their heads. If they did move, the interrogators said the ‘clock was reset.’ U.S. personnel, through interpreters, yelled at the detainees from behind the light, asking questions.”

As they say, if these are the good guys, I wouldn’t wanna…you know the rest. Here are the conclusions reached by Human Rights Watch in the report:

U.S. forces regularly use military means and methods during arrest operations in residential areas where law enforcement techniques would be more appropriate. Members of the U.S. armed forces have arrested numerous civilians not directly participating in the hostilities and numerous persons whom U.S. authorities have no legal basis for taking into custody. Persons detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan are held without regard to the requirements of international humanitarian law or human rights law. The general lack of due process within the U.S. detention system violates both international humanitarian law and basic standards of human rights law. There are serious concerns regarding the treatment of detainees at Bagram airbase, particularly in light of the failure of the United States to investigate and publicly report on several unexplained deaths in detention. There is credible evidence of beatings and other physical assaults of detainees, as well as evidence that the United States has used prolonged shackling, exposure to cold, and sleep deprivation amounting to torture or other mistreatment in violation of international law.

This is hardly news. On December 26, 2002, Dana Priest and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post wrote of detainees “sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles” or “held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights.”

Human Rights Watch says the U.S. detention policy in Afghanistan serves as “a poor example for other nations around the world,” but don’t hold your breath waiting for a full-fledged denial…because declaring war on a tactic (i.e. terror) means never having to say you’re sorry.

Last year, Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram, explained: “We do force people to stand for an extended period of time. . . . Disruption of sleep has been reported as an effective way of reducing people’s inhibition about talking or their resistance to questioning. . . . They are not allowed to speak to each other. If they do, they can plan together or rely on the comfort of one another. If they’re caught speaking out of turn, they can be forced to do things, like stand for a period of time-as payment for speaking out.”

As another official told the Washington Post in December 2002: “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job.”

If you wanna sleep better tonight, try repeating this until catatonia sets in: “They hate us because we’re free. They hate us because we’re free. They hate us because we’re free.”

Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: “A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense” (Prime Books) and “Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a comment