Monday, March 29, 2010

The Salt Pit



[this post has been revised and expanded 3.31]

Ghairat Baheer is grateful for his freedom, the US, and Mohammed Karzai.

Is this statement true? I don’t know-- although I suspect while the first part may be, the second and third are probably not so true.Do you like how the pictures go together, with the suggestion that the man in the truck is looking approvingly at Obama, who is visiting his country this weekend? I matched them, like a low-rent, modern day Plutarch. The man on the left was imprisoned by the CIA in 202, and later released.

This is not news here in the US, in itself. By now most people here should know we imprison a lot of people in far off places. Regardless of how they may feel about it, most Americans who at least half-way pay attention to what’s going on are aware of this. But Baheer was captured and imprisoned along with a patient of his, and recently revealed documents revealed the CIA kinda killed Dr Baheer’s patient.

MSNBC/AP:"Death shed light on CIA ‘Salt Pit’ near Kabul"


[Gul Rahman] a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison. Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.
[…]
Rahman was arrested with Dr. Ghairat Baheer, a physician who is Hekmatyar's son-in-law and a leader of Hezb-e-Islami, an insurgent faction blamed for numerous bombings and violence in Afghanistan.
Baheer, who said he spent six months in the Salt Pit during six years in Afghan prisons, said in an interview in Islamabad that he never learned what happened to Rahman. Rahman's family repeatedly pressed International Red Cross officials about his fate, Baheer said.
"If he died there in interrogation or he died a natural death they should have told his family and ended their uncertainty," Baheer said.
Rahman had driven from Peshawar, Pakistan, in the northwest frontier to Islamabad for a medical checkup. He was staying with Baheer, an old friend, when U.S. agents and Pakistani security forces stormed the house and took both men, two guards and a cook into custody.
After a week, Rahman was separated from the others. "That was the last time I saw him," said Baheer, now a member of a Hezb-e-Islami delegation that met this month in Kabul, the Afghan capital, for peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Baheer said he was flown to Afghanistan and taken to the Salt Pit, the code name for the abandoned brick factory turned CIA prison. In small, windowless cells, detainees were subjected to harsh treatment and at least one mock execution, according to several former CIA officials.

"I was left naked, sleeping on the barren concrete," said Baheer. His toilet was a bucket. Loudspeakers blared. Guards concealed their identity with masks and carried torches.
Baheer said his American interrogators would tie him to a chair and sit on his stomach. They hung[sic] him naked, he said, for hours on end.
[…]
A CIA medic at the site concluded the Afghan[Rahman] died of hypothermia. A doctor sent later confirmed that judgment. But the detainee's body was never returned to his family, and Baheer said his friend's relatives still don't know what happened.

"The Americans have had enough time," said Baheer. "After nearly eight years, enough is enough."


The commonplace conceit on many lefty blogs is to observe, perhaps sneeringly, that Americans want to be the good guys, but don't want to face up to what their government does. Well, stereotype or not, it's true as far as I can tell. I know I want Americans to be the good guys-- I don't think wanting that is the problem, per se. As far as I can see the problem is deciding that simply asserting we are is weirdly sufficient for some people. This magic trick renders our actual actions as secondary, and easily rationalized as any given situation may require.

(It's an interesting coincidence that the Christian Science Monitor is currently running a story about the supposed resurgence of American Calvinism, because to me the problem described above approximately parallels the difference between justification by works vs. justification by faith, and for the longest time I've felt that one of the problems with our foreign policy has been a reliance on a sort of Calvinist reasoning that undergirds US exceptionalism.)

Mimi often asks how do we change things, and Rob Payne often discusses our complacency before Empire, as he did yesterday. Here I'm saying that people need to discard American predestination, or at the very least decide to make some kind of peace with it, so that it causes no more trouble for ourselves and others. Maybe when we stereotypical 'Godless liberals' tell stories like that of Rahman we need to impress upon the listener not only the sin against Rahman and his brothers but the consequent corruption of the torturer's soul. It may sound strange and even indulgent and I know that justification by works has always made more sense to me, but then again I attended Catholic school through the 4th grade. Still, if that's the key to reach some people, we need to take another cue from Christ and not be too proud to try to reach the reachable by speaking in terms that mean something to them.

*****
some additional thoughts[3.31], per the comments:



Rob, yes, I think manifest destiny is very much an extension of the concept of predestination. It's a concept that I have a hard time with on both the national and personal level.

Mimi,I guess the challenge in this context is to persuade people

"what does it profit a man if his country maintains an empire and he loses his own soul?"

I suppose that sounds a bit mawkish but I think some people think like that, and at least some of them may be persuaded by such an argument.

Maybe you need to show people how the guy in the CIA and his victim were both victims of the Bushes and Obamas of the world in order to help them accept the idea that maybe the great brown horde of 1 billion Muslims might actually be, you know, people.

As an Arab-American it occasionally frustrates me to think that might be necessary, because sometimes I just want to say, "look: if you don't want people saying bad things about the US, then you should want the US to stop doing bad things, it really is that simple."

But I guess many people need illustrations-- I think about how Reagan was supposedly persuaded to put the brakes on the arms race because he watched the TV movie "the Day After."

Ideally, from that flows the notion that the Islamic world is not an intrinsic threat to us, and that resentment towards the US is not them "hating us for our freedoms," but founded on legitimate grievances which we can correct without sacrificing security. Many Americans are already there, and I'm convinced many more are malleable on this point. Besides, it's not a question of convincing every last person who considers himself an Evangelical to no longer support imperial wars without end, just enough of "them" to form a strong bloc of American voters against Empire. (Ironically, at one time back in the day it was precisely that portion of the populace that was most isolationist.)

[Watch "Prelude to War" from Capra's 1940s Why We Fight series sometime. Some of it is blunt propaganda, but some of scenes of the pulse-taking of the US are a revelation of a bygone world.]

If anything, I suspect it's probably upper-income voters, both republicans and democrats, who are the one group least amenable to be persuaded to reject the politics of Empire.

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4 Comments:

At March 29, 2010 11:26 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Manifest destiny and predestination would I suppose mean the same thing for manifest destiny is predicated on America’s destiny to lead the world to a better place. It’s certainly woven indelibly into the American world view and changing that world view would be a Herculean task. Manifest destiny also invokes god where our Christianity makes us superior to the heathen hordes. But then the first Europeans to come here were fundamentalists so this isn’t surprising. This is also ironic as Americans are now afraid of fundamentalism in the form of Muslims. We’re a weird bunch.

 
At March 30, 2010 3:14 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

Lots of luck in trying to persuade Christians, for instance, that Jesus might not have advocated bombing the hell out of people in foreign lands. You went to Catholic schools through fourth grade? I went from first grade through graduation from high school. I still see lots of fellow parochial schoolmates and, almost without exception, they're either enthusiastic war supporters or "Wha--there's a war on?" ignorami. Yet they religiously (heh, heh) attend mass and "pray for peace." I'm not sure what, exactly, that means to them--if anything.

 
At March 30, 2010 6:22 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Rob n' Mimi,
Rob, yes, I think manifest destiny is very much an extension of the concept of predestination. It's a concept that I have a hard time with on both the national and personal level.

Mimi,I guess the challenge in this context is to persuade people

"what does it profit a man if his country maintains an empire and he loses his own soul?"

I suppose that sounds a bit mawkish but I think some people think like that, and at least some of them may be persuaded by such an argument.

Maybe you need to show people how the guy in the CIA and his victim were both victims of the Bushes and Obamas of the world in order to help them accept the idea that maybe the great brown horde of 1 billion Muslims might actually be, you know, people.

As an Arab-American it occasionally frustrates me to think that might be necessary, because sometimes I just want to say, "look: if you don't want people saying bad things about the US, then you should want the US to stop doing bad things, it really is that simple."

But I guess many people need illustrations-- I think about how Reagan was supposedly persuaded to put the brakes on the arms race because he watched the TV movie "the Day After."

 
At March 31, 2010 7:41 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Jonathan,
From what I have been reading it sounds like more Americans are becoming not so much isolationist as in cutting ourselves off from the world like Japan did way back when but isolationist in the sense that we should mind our own business more, pay more attention to domestic issues etc., but still have an active non-military, non-nation building role in world affairs in other words pursuing American interests in a more peaceful manner. That’s fine with me but the problem is that Washington is set in its ways; war is like a national pastime for congress and the presidents. Indeed most of them cannot even imagine not being at war somewhere in the world. They are the War Junkies, or at least that’s a good name for them I think.

When you think about it most wars are instigated by leaders which include nations with pretenses to democracy where there is more of a need to manipulate public opinion, the present wars being perfect examples. I think most Americans are sick of these wars yet the problem, as always, is that Americans have been cut out of the foreign policy decision process by the machinations of the military-industrial-blah,blah,blah complex.

 

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