• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

Bound & Gagged -- The Policy, not the Rag

About a month ago when we were rounding up the Taliban, we Chipsters read on CNN.com that the surrendered or captured fighters were being led off to their place of detention "shackled, blindfolded and gagged".  Gagged?

Say what? Has SM become part of official policy or is some "logistical planner" rather pulsing up a sweat at his desk while he draws up these protocols?

Dragging off captives shackled is about as old as dragging off captives. As far as I know, dragging off captives shackled and blindfolded became a practice during the Vietnam War, although I am sure it had been done to isolated individuals before that time. But gagged? The procedure served no purpose other than to humiliatingly, depersonalize by an act of dominance barely removed and metaphorically close to rape.

Reassuringly enough, the story was accompanied by a blurry dark foto showing some bars and an "enemy" kneeling before someone standing. More recently, as Taliban members have been transported farther, the Pentagon has placed a gag on the press. Apparently, CNN broadcast pictures of the detainees being led about in jump suits and shackles, but since then the Pentagon has prohibited any more such pictures. The pressure must have been fairly intense because we can't find pictures clipped from the broadcast anywhere on CNN's web page. In fact, all one sees is fascinating pictures of guard towers, barbed wire and MPs. With a cynicism quite worthy of Goering, the government says that the prohibition is designed to spare the detainees "public humiliation" in accordance with Geneva Protocols. It is well understood that those provisions are aimed at preventing the dragging of prisoners through howling mobs, putting them on stages or cages in the public square and so on. They have nothing to do with press coverage. More saliently, those same protocols prohibit humiliation whether private or public and keeping prisoners in open air cages would seem to be a serious violation of the standards of treatment we purport to follow.

As one has no doubt read, there have been contradictory information on whether all or some of these Taliban were drugged for the flight to Guantanamo. What is clear is that they were ear-plugged, goggle-blinded, shackled near to immobile and given a bottle to piss in. Rumsfeld has justified this torture-by-sensory deprivation on the grounds that these brutes are so vicious they would "gnaw through the cables" of the airplane just to bring it down. Really! At any rate, it must have been quite a trip, since it was reported that, on arrival, the plane was cleaned up and "disinfected".

It was equivocally reported that, on arrival, some of the Taliban might possibly have "resisted" by falling to the ground or perhaps their legs were weak. Guards were seen yelling at them but this, it was said, was due to the earplugs. Musta been mighty strong earplugs or were the hapless prisoners drugged after all?

And what have these men done to deserve this treatment -- supposing this kind of treatment is deserved by anyone? As far as I can recall Afghanistan was a sovereign country. It was controlled, up to 90% by the Taliban. Under international law that made the Taliban the de facto government of that country. At the very least, it qualified for recognition as a recognized belligerent, which usually occurs when one warring party controls some "significant" portion of territory.

The general rule is also that the de facto government becomes the de jure one, although there is no requirement that it be officially recognized by any other sovereign state, because the cardinal rule of all international law is that you can't tell a sovereign what to do, unless he agrees to be told. It was for this "reason" that the U.S. could withhold recognition of Communist China for 30 years. At any rate, no matter how one cuts it and regardless of U.S. recognition or lack of it, the Taliban could not be characterized as a band of bandits or partisans. They had acquired some status between recognizable belligerent and official government; and what that means is that the individual Taliban qualify as POWs.

And what did any of these individuals do to be classified as criminals? I have heard nothing to show that any of them had any hand in the 9/11 bombing. Rather, as part of a belligerent party or government, they fought (for a while) against foreign parties invading their country. But in the American view, this is a criminal act. So... if we were to go to war with un-recognized Cuba, and its army were to fight back and loose, we could drag it off to some "detention" center in Georgia?

But even supposing that the Taliban are criminals, it is astonishing to see the government take the position that criminals can be treated like factory or circus animals. (Not that animals should be treated that way either).

Well....in the long perspective of "the crimes, vices and follies that comprise the history of mankind" (Gibbon) it is all a relatively small thing; but a small thing that is deeply disgusting and which betrays a depravity of mind that pervades our government.

©WCG, 2002