It seems that so much has been coming out these past few weeks about who knew and authorized what re torture at the White House. The Guardian has an interesting article up about Guantanamo Bay and the Haynes memo, and while it gets into a lot of the details of who was talking to whom, etc, there were a few passages I wanted to highlight on this here queer blog:
The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas." A wan smile crossed Beaver's face. "And I said to myself, you know what, I don't have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached."
More on that after the jump.
Diane Beaver was a low-level military lawyer who was apparently put in charge of giving the legal OK to many of the techniques used at Gitmo. While many lower-level officials were allowed in for the ideas phase, she and people above her had a more final say (although the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs expressed a shockingly low-level of knowledge of what had been approved and where the ideas were coming from).
But it's interesting to note how big a role mythologized masculinity played in the atrocities there:
Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn't immediately follow up with her: "24 - Jack Bauer."
It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox's hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.
Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, "he gave people lots of ideas." She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might.
If anything's more macho than Jack Bauer, than I just can't think of it.
That and the before-jump blockquote about penises (evidently Beaver wasn't able to stay "detached" considering the torture techniques she approved. In fact, one of the dissenters at Gitmo accused her of drinking the "Kool-Aid") puts torture back into its proper context, or at least they do for me. There isn't really anything intellectual about it, any real reason that we need to do it, or any way that it improves the world. The only justification for doing it is that it makes some people feel better to be able to hurt other people they don't like.
But what does it say about us when we have 18- to 20-year-olds getting their jollies off possible ways to hurt others and when Jack Bauer is somehow read as a representation of reality? The idea that there's a ticking time bomb at a preschool and the terrorist who set it up is tied to a chair and the only way to stop the bomb is to beat him is utter fiction. It's a situation that doesn't happen, and it wasn't happening at Gitmo.
But it's not just teenagers looking to construct their masculinity around a TV character's violence and sadism, it's also Republican presidential candidates. Remember this?
During tonight's presidential debates, candidates were asked whether they would support the use of waterboarding -- a technique, defined as torture by the Justice Department, that simulates drowning and makes the subject "believe his death is imminent while ideally not causing permanent physical damage."
Both former mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) suggested they would support using the technique. Specifically asked about waterboarding, Giuliani said he would allow "every method [interrogators] could think of and I would support them in doing it." Tancredo later added, "I'm looking for Jack Bauer," referencing the television character who has used torture techniques such as suffocation and electrocution on prisoners.
The Republican presidential nominee (and the Democratic one, to a lesser degree) has been the winner of a contest of who can construct the most appropriate masculine image. American politics comes down to those two themes - gender and imagery - more often than we'd like to admit, so it's no surprise that the GOP candidates were trying to out-macho each other by talking up how much torture they'd support (double Guantanamo!).
If any more evidence that torture was more about domination and hierarchy than it was about obtaining information, it came in this release from the ACLU:
Today's documents reveal charges that Special Forces beat, burned, and doused eight prisoners with cold water before sending them into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in U.S. custody in March 2003. In late 2004, the military opened a criminal investigation into charges of torture at Gardez. Despite numerous witness statements describing the evidence of torture, the military's investigation concluded that the charges of torture were unsupported. It also concluded that Naseer's death was the result of a "stomach ailment," even though no autopsy had been conducted in his case. Documents uncovered today also refer to sodomy committed by prison guards; the victims' identities are redacted.
(I agree with Sean that we should refer to it as "rape" instead of "sodomy" when it's non-consensual, but that's nit-picking here. We know they aren't referring to consensual anal sex.)
The only intent I can see for raping the prisoners here is merely to establish dominance in one of the most primal and sadistic ways possible. And in a culture that has made masculinity a game of one-upsmanship, it's not surprising to see it appearing in and taking over when the order that would normally keep these urges in check is removed.
Consider this from the National Journal a few years ago:
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."
Indeed it does. If information were the end being served here, then we would have pursued more fruitful avenues a long time ago.
Masculinity, though, needs an intervention.