I just watched on DVD the docudrama, The Road to Guantanamo by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, which won mostly positive critical praise when released here theatrically. Essentially, it's the story of four young British-Pakistanis who head for the Mideast to attend a wedding only to be caught up in the Afghan War and wind up on troop transport planes bound for Cuba. It's a tale of almost unbelievable cruelty perpetrated by the very people who once claimed to cherish the noble and egalitarian ideals of democracy, but now, in the name of "security," practice the same evils attributed to the Nazi S.S. and other infamous despots throughout history.
I was reminded of a saying we had during the Vietnam Era, actually the title of a book by Edmund Snow Carpenter, a friend of Marshall McLuhan and teacher of anthropology at the University of Toronto and other academic venues. The title was: We Became What We Beheld. I am very much afraid that somewhere along the road to our becoming the world's greatest superpower, the U.S. became what it beheld, and as Guantanamo illustrated so perfectly well, what we beheld was tyrrany in the name of a better night's sleep. I know it is by now a cliche and that saying it invites accusations of traitorous betrayal, but I will repeat it anyway: We are the New Nazis.
What good is torture when it only produces lies and forced confessions not worth the breath that uttered them? There is a beautiful, telling documentary snippet in the Winterbottom-Whitecross movie -- a blend of TV news footage, reconstructed events, and interviews with the three young Islamic Brits who survived. It comes when the groundwork for the interrogation and imprisonment of hostages flown from Afghanistan to Gitmo is being laid and the then-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is heard to remark that the captor-interrogators (first the Marines, then the FBI and CIA) would be "following the Geneva Conventions...for the most part...."
I am afraid Rummy now belongs to that select group of Americans who cannot safely travel outside the United States due to the ever-growing membership ranks of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. (No wonder the U.S. has denounced the World Court and refused to participate in its doings.) Like Nixon's architect of war, Henry Kissenger, Rumsfeld risks being snatched on the streets of one member nation or another and taken, Milosevich-like, before the Tribunal.
If I had any doubt that what happened at Guantanamo violated the Geneva accords if not to the letter, then certainly in spirit, The Road to Guantanamo removed any veil of doubt that remained. Worse, the later Iraqi misadventure, an unprovoked escalation of hostilities against both guilty and innocent Iraqis at Abu Graib saw wholesale flouting of the accords. We have indeed become what we beheld.
Winterbottom and Whitecross's movie ends with the surviving Islamic Brits being flown home, eventually joining their friends in Pakistan for the long-planned wedding. But all three men tell the camera they've been permanently changed. Actually, it is amazing they remained sane, much less capable of going on with their lives. I am afraid it just won't do for our leaders and our national security people to perpetuate a wicked twist on the old saying that it is better to set one guilty man free to protect all who remain innocent. The modus operandi at Guantanamo turned this notion on its head, insisting as it did on imprisonment and psychological torture of many innocents in often vain hopes of sussing out one or two members of bin Ladin's al Qaida.
There was a bit of talk in the film about the differences between Islamic and American "values." That became the buzzword for the Neo-Cons who put George Bush and Dick Cheney in the White House, the latter at least, it's now known, already with plans to invade Iraq. One is left to wonder, "Whose values?" The same glib value talk held sway at the recent MSNBC Republican "debate." The values they mean -- those of Romney, Tancredo, Huckabee, and Brownback -- are clearly Christer values, which are really bigot values, church-state union values, undemocratic values, hypocrite values. If this is not the case, why did John McCain denounce the two leading Christer fundamentalists months ago only to suck up to them more recently as the time came for his hat to go into the ring?
As I watched the DVD, I was reminded of another saying from the Vietnam Era. One of our finest folk singers, John Prine, a master of irony and the "protest" song, wrote and recorded a little ditty titled "Flag Decal," on the singer's brilliant debut album. The song is too long (not to mention copyright-covered) to repeat at length here, but fair usage might allow me to quote the refrain:
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason is
And your flag decal won't get you
Into heaven any more.
You know, I kinda doubt Jesus would like torture, either. But you certainly see a lot of those yellow ribbon decals on vehicles these days. Do those drivers think their Iraq Era decals will get them past Saint Pete? It amuses me to see that some people, perhaps feeling guilty about the non-WMD, non-al Qaida link, non Saddam nuclear-capability revelations of late, have been trying to scratch their decals off...only to discover that the shitheads who marketed them forgot to make them car paint- friendly. Even if you manage to remove the decal, your paint job is ruined.
To those drivers who've left the the decals in place thinking they'll get them through the Pearly Gates...well, they've got another think coming.