Saturday, June 19, 2004

June 21, 2004

Coincidence, pattern and memory. Tricky things these three.

One ghastly day in May, at close to three in the morning, a US helicopter fires its missiles at the village of Mukaradeeb in western Iraq. "[C]oalition forces came under hostile fire and close air support was provided," the Pentagon explains later. The target was "a suspected foreign fighter safe house," the deputy director of US military operations in Iraq, Gen. Mark Kimmitt, adds.

Once the smoke peels away from Mukaradeeb, the counting begins. Over 40 people are dead, most of them women and children. It was a wedding party.

Almost a year earlier, in the early hours of one morning in July, the US air force pounds the Afghan village of Kararak with bombs. "Close air support from US Air Force B-52 and AC-130 aircraft struck several ground targets, including anti-aircraft artillery sites that were engaging the aircraft," explained the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida. By the end of the attack, over 40 people are dead - all of them civilians, many of them children. Another wedding party.

In Southeast Asia over a hundred years ago, the US annexation of the Philippines has just commenced and the crescendo of carnage is nearing its state of continuous climax. In a humid theater somewhere in the ex-future first republic of Asia, the 11th US Cavalry encounters a festive gathering - another wedding party, of course. The soldiers fire into the throng, kill the bride and two men and wound another woman and two children.

The cursory statement in response to the atrocity from the US Army, which explains that "the American troops ran into a beehive of insurgents and responded valiantly with covering fire," has yet to be discovered. We are certain, however, that it's just tucked in somewhere in the growing scrapbook of imperial nuptials, the remedy to insatiable greed.

Till death do us part?

The exchange of vows under the American boot has been going on for some time now. Everyone is invited, depending on the matrimonial gift one brings. The wedding of avarice with gluttony: imperial groom - ugly muscular festering wound of a suitor - seeks and swallows lonely girl, professing love, the good life and liberty. We don't do torture, we don't occupy, we don't do massacres; we reject Satan and all other evildoers.

"Those are my principles," said Groucho Marx. "If you don't like them, I have others."

What a curious thing, today's trends. The rage is Abu Ghraib. The shame of the few "bad apples" that have sullied the good name of the US. The Rumsfeld memorandum. The August 2002 memo on "standards of conduct for interrogation" prepared by the misnamed US Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The isolated incidents.

Yes. The isolated incidents.

In 1901, in the course of interrogating "treacherous" Filipinos who did not have the good sense to accept America's seizure of the Philippines, Lieutenant Frederick Arnold and one Sergeant Edwards were accused of torturing Filipino prisoners. Their acts of "prisoner abuse?" Stripping a young man naked, then subjecting him to the water cure (the essential memory recovery medication of the US occupation army's battle kit and the predecessor of today's "water-boarding"): the prisoner's mouth is forced open to respectfully facilitate down his throat five to ten gallons of water (or whatever the limits his bloated stomach could endure). Once filled up, the interrogators politely step on the prisoner's tummy until the prisoner blurts out the desired information.

For data validation purposes, the same prisoner is put to question once more by his American liberators and "whipped and beaten unmercifully with rattan rods" and "then strung up by his thumbs." Efficiency is everything.

Another feat of the imagination - before questioning, a strip of skin is cut from a Filipino prisoner's ankle and attached to a piece of wood and then "the flesh" is coiled "with the wood." Think can-opener.

"When I give a man to [my troops]," said Lt. Arnold, "I want information. I do not know how [they] get it, but [they] get it anyway." Filipinos "had no feelings other than physical, and should not be treated as human beings."

In 1900, a captain and lieutenant of the 27th US Regiment were tried for hanging six Filipinos by their necks for ten seconds, "causing them," it was charged, "to suffer great bodily pain." The words in the charge sheet were later changed to "mental anguish" and the officers were found guilty and sentenced to reprimands.

Unlucky chaps these US officers; they lived way too ahead of their time. By the standards of America's government today, they wouldn't have been charged at all. According to the Acceptable Torture Handbook prepared by the Bush administration, if someone "knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent." A "defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control."

Thus, if your professed intention is to extract information, you can't be accused of torture.

God bless America.

"Wedding party massacre," Rory McCarthy, The Guardian-UK, May 204 2004.
"Waterboarding at the Whitehouse," Tom Engelhardt,, June 16, 2004.
"Euphimisms for torture," Adam Hochschild, TODAY, May 26, 2004.
"Bad Apples at the Top," Editorial, The Daily Camera-Boulder, Colorado, June 17, 2004
"This Won't Hurt Much," Terry Jones, The Guardian-UK, June 16, 2004
Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War, Daniel Boone Schirmer, Schenkman Publishing.
The ordeal of Samar, Joseph L. Schott, Bobbs-Merrill Company.
Little Brown Brother: How the United States Purchased and Pacified the Philippines, Leon Wolff, Oxford University Press.

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