This is who we are
As he so often does, Scott Horton provides a new perspective on a critical issue. The Obama administration's refusal to hold the Bush administration accountable for authorizing torture has been much discussed, at least in the blogs. So has the Obama administration's continuation of some Bush policies. And we know from experience that when Republican criminality does not face justice, those implicated in the criminality end up back in government, when Republicans return to power. Sometimes, they even end up in the judiciary.
So, failure to pursue fair justice ensures that crimes will continue, and that criminal government officials will have further opportunities to commit crimes. Which should be, first and foremost, about the victims. But it's also about us. It's about who we are, as a people. It's about the survival of our souls. And that's the perspective that Horton takes, in a recent interview with Joshua Phillips, who this year received the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for his 2008 American Radio Works documentary "What Killed Sergeant Gray." Phillips has now written a book about that story, which is about the impact of U.S. torture on the torturers themselves.
But they, too, were damaged by the abuse they were involved in. The veterans I reported on felt unable to discuss their experiences with loved ones, and were plagued by guilt and remorse. Although the story I had stumbled on wasn’t without precedent, the relationship between abusive violence (such as detainee abuse) and traumatic stress was not widely known or understood. Over time, I grew to understand how complex and debilitating guilt was; it was difficult to turn off, and greatly contributed to post-traumatic stress disorder in many circumstances. It helped explain what some soldiers, who had been involved in prisoner abuse, were struggling with.
The soldiers I reported on were forever changed by their tour in Iraq. I wanted to understand how this happened. Their story is critically important for understanding the legacy of U.S. prisoner abuse, and many of the unrecognized costs of torture.
It's not easy to sympathize with people who have committed such crimes, but it is important to understand their psychological trauma. Because anyone paying attention knows that without accountability, our entire nation is complicit. Every one of us. Denial, guilt, cognitive dissonance, and psychological numbing are just some of the myriad of complex reactions. And we see it all around us, all the time. It's evident in the despicable double-standard of our media's refusal even to use the word "torture," when torture is committed by Americans. Which is part of what allows the criminality to spread. Which it did. As Phillips explains:
Prisoner abuse and torture was far more widespread than most people understand. It happened well beyond the walls of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA “black sites.” Prisoners were seriously abused in other U.S. military bases and facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And it will continue to be widespread, unless someone definitively stops it. And upholds the law. Not to mention fundamental human morality. The title of Phillips's book is None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture, but it's not only about those soldiers. It's about us. Because none of us were like this before, either. But this is who we are, now. Unless someone definitively stops it.