It is a case of brutal torture against an innocent, defenseless pregnant woman, whose only "crime" was to be married to a man who belonged to an organization which had long been supported by the US and UK -- until the geopolitics of oil made the group expendable. It is a tale of cowardice and cruelty, of hypocrisy and corruption, of deliberate atrocity that exacerbates the extremism it purports to combat. It is the emblem of an evil system ordered, countenanced, championed and protected at the very highest levels of the two governments -- a system that is very much still in operation today.
Bouchar was married to Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a member of a group seeking to overthrow Moamar Gadafy in Libya. For 10 years, members of the group had been given asylum in Britain and other countries. According to credible reports, they were being supported by British intelligence in their efforts to oust the Libyan dictator. Then Gadafy began negotiating his deal with George W. Bush and Tony Blair to open up Libyan oil fields to the West. Suddenly, his enemies became enemies of the West; as in Afghanistan, stalwart "freedom fighters" were transformed into "terrorists" overnight, when the agenda of the West's corporate overlords demanded it. (The same process would be reversed in 2011, after Gadafy had proved less servile than expected.)
At that point, Bouchar and her husband suddenly became bargaining chips in the backroom deal being greased in Washington, London and Tripoli. As proved by secret files and messages unearthed in Libya after Gadafy's fall, Bouchar and Belhaj were offered to Gadafy as a gift from the British, a sweetener to pave the way for his first meeting with Tony Blair -- and for the oil deals that swiftly followed.
Here is what happened to the couple in 2004 when they were detained in Thailand -- site of one of America's innumerable secret prisons -- as they tried to fly to the "friendly" confines of the UK. They were kidnapped by American agents at the behest of British intelligence. As Cobain writes:
Just when Fatima Bouchar thought it couldn't get any worse, the Americans forced her to lie on a stretcher and began wrapping tape around her feet. They moved upwards, she says, along her legs, winding the tape around and around, binding her to the stretcher. They taped her stomach, her arms and then her chest. She was bound tight, unable to move.
Bouchar says there were three Americans: two tall, thin men and an equally tall woman. Mostly they were silent. She never saw their faces: they dressed in black and always wore black balaclavas. Bouchar was terrified. They didn't stop at her chest – she says they also wound the tape around her head, covering her eyes. Then they put a hood and earmuffs on her. She was unable to move, to hear or to see. "My left eye was closed when the tape was applied," she says, speaking about her ordeal for the first time. "But my right eye was open, and it stayed open throughout the journey. It was agony." The journey would last around 17 hours. ...
Belhaj says he was blindfolded, hooded, forced to wear ear defenders, and hung from hooks in his cell wall for what seemed to be hours. He says he was severely beaten. The ear defenders were removed only for him to be blasted with loud music, he says, or when he was interrogated by his US captors.
Bouchar says that when she was dragged away from her husband she feared he was going to be killed. "I thought: 'This is it.' I thought I would never see my husband again ... They took me into a cell, and they chained my left wrist to the wall and both my ankles to the floor. I could sit down but I couldn't move. There was a camera in the room, and every time I tried to move they rushed in. But there was no real communication. I wasn't questioned." Bouchar found it difficult to comprehend how she could be treated in this way: she was four-and-a-half months pregnant. "They knew I was pregnant," she says. "It was obvious." She says she was given water while chained up, but no food whatsoever. She was chained to the wall for five days. At the end of this period she was taped to the stretcher and put aboard the aircraft, unaware of where she was going or whether her husband was on board. At one point the aircraft landed, remained on the ground for a short period and then took off again. Only when it landed a second time did she hear a man grunting with pain, and realise her husband was nearby. ...
Two weeks after the couple were rendered to Libya, Tony Blair paid his first visit to the country, embracing Gaddafi and declaring that Libya had recognised "a common cause, with us, in the fight against al-Qaida extremism and terrorism". At the same time, in London, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell announced that it had signed a £110 million deal for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast. ...
As we noted here recently, these torture-renditions are by no means at an end. They thrive under the leadership of Barack Obama and David Cameron just as vigoously as they did under Bush and Blair. As Bill Blum put it last week:
Shortly after Obama's inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that "rendition" was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported: "Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States." ...
After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had "left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules ... Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of 'rendition' — picking terrorism suspects off the street and sending them to a third country."
Here, at least, is a promise that Obama has kept.
But why do these tortures go on? (As noted in that previous post, Obama has in no way "ended torture" by American officials; even the official guidelines he has openly approved allow techniques that are torture in every sense of the word.) What is the point of these atrocities? In the vast majority of cases, "terrorist suspects" are the smallest of small fry, even in the eyes of their captors; they are tortured merely to extract some crumb of information from them, some tidbit that might somehow fit into the "mosaic" -- the conceptual tool used by our intelligence services to weave gigantic, world-threatening conspiracies which can only be thwarted by ever more vast expenditures and arbitrary power for our intelligence services. As is well known, this interrogation strategy produces mountains of useless crap, which our intelligence "experts" then mold into whatever shape our politicians (and their paymasters) require. It is worse than useless; it is demonstrably counterproductive. It does not enhance "national security." It doesn't even do anything in particular to advance the agendas of our corporate and political overlords, because it throws up too much dust and chaos to be of practical use in plotting their future moves.
So why does it happen? Why are innocent pregnant women wrapped in tape, why are children abducted, why are innocent people strung up in "stress positions," why are captives beaten, bombarded with brain-scrambling noise, stripped naked and sexually humiliated, drugged, deprived of sleep, threatened with murder -- and sometimes murdered in fact? Why is this being done by official representatives of the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom?
Why? Because -- and let us be absolutely clear about this -- because these people want to torture others. They like it, they enjoy it. There is clearly a zest, a psychosexual rush at work. Like child abusers, they enjoy their full, unchallengeable physical power over the bodies of their defenseless victims. They get off on it. They are the moral equivalent of pedophiles, and in any remotely healthy society, they would be treated as such.
And of course we are not talking solely of those doing the hands-on torture. Their bosses are of exactly the same ilk. I refer here to our great and good, our high and mighty, the minsters of state, the cabinet members, the military chieftains, the lords and legislators, the prime ministers, the presidents. All of them are eager participants in this extreme perversity. They love the fact that they can order human beings to be tortured -- to be beaten, trussed up, stripped and probed, drugged, driven crazy. They love how tough it makes them feel. They love how powerful it makes them feel. There should be no mistake about this. Torture is being carried out because our leaders want it to be, because they like it. There are no reluctant torturers -- neither at highest levels nor among the factotums actually doing the deed.
There are no reluctant torturers. This point is important to remember. No one is forced to carry out torture. This is one of the great absolving myths that societies tell themselves when, at some point, their filthy crimes are belched forth and cannot be denied. (This generally happens when their government collapses, either from military defeat or internal rot.) For example, almost no German soldier was ever punished or prosecuted for refusing to take part in Nazi atrocities. The historical record is filled with instances where individual German soldiers or officers refused to join an "aktion" against civilians. They were not court-martialed, imprisoned or killed; they were simply left out of the operation, assigned other duties or transferred to other units. The idea that the soldiers who carried out atrocities did so on pain of death from their tyrannical overlords is just a myth. They did it because they actively wanted to do it -- or saw no reason not to do it.
Now it is also a fact that very few of those who participated in these atrocities would have done so if their leaders had not created the structure and circumstances for the atrocities to occur. The same is true of the Anglo-American torture system in operation today. Over the past 10 years, US and UK soldiers and operatives have been formed into death squads carrying out secret killings in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. They've kidnapped unarmed people (or often just bought them, like slaves, from profiteering locals), and sent them to secret prisons in the American gulag or to torture chambers in cooperative countries -- including, at various times, Gadafy's Libya and Assad's Syria. They have murdered, beaten, sexually abused and psychologically tortured thousands upon thousands of people, very few of whom ever posed even the slightest threat to the United States or Great Britain.
But again, very few of the low-ranking perpetrators of these atrocities would have carried them out if the bipartisan leadership of their countries -- the world's most "advanced" democracies, the self-proclaimed defenders of law, decency, freedom and human rights -- had not very deliberately created the circumstances and the structure for the commission of these crimes. This does not absolve the individual perpetrator from the responsibility for his or her own actions, of course. They were not forced to do something against their conscience. They were not even conscripted into service; they entered it freely. But once presented with the atrocity-bearing situation created by their leaders, they either embraced or accepted the opportunity, with varying degrees of eagerness or indifference. The taint runs throughout the whole system.
This is the reality of our age. What Americans and Britons once refused to do to Adolf Hitler's minions -- torture, abuse, and deprive them of legal rights -- they now do routinely, continually and without shame to people whom they know to be either completely innocent or -- even in the torturers' own estimation -- to be peripheral, unimportant and unthreatening. They are torturing people because they want to do it, because they like to do it.
And the entire political class of both Britain and the United States acquiesce in this. They accept it. They do not denounce the perpetrators and orchestrators and orderers of torture as evil. They do not condemn them and shun them as they would child abusers and murderers. They thunder and bluster over small straws of difference and policy nuances, but they swallow whole the steaming, blood-soaked viscera of Terror War torture. Instead, they prosecute officials and soldiers who try to tell the truth about torture and other atrocities of the Terror War, as Jesselyn Raddack reports here. War crime is now completely normalized in American politics and American society. It's what we do. It's what we are. And we don't care.
Yet everywhere you look -- even in the oh-so-fervent, "we're the good guys," liberal progressive humanitarian blogosphere -- you will see incessant, obsessive coverage of all the minute ins and outs of the political circus: the primaries, the polls, the money, the momentum, the players. Every day -- every hour -- they read the tea leaves and poke through the entrails, hoping to divine what needs to be done so that "our side" wins. Our torturers. Our renditioners. Our abusers of innocent pregnant women. Our beaters and batterers and chainers and killers. We want our man, not their man, to commit the atrocities.
This obscene dynamic is now the essence of the American political process. It is rotten to the core, rotten at the top, rotten to the roots. As we've noted here many, many times before, Henry David Thoreau gave the only possible response that anyone who aspires to a measure of honor can give to the obscenity that engulfs us:
"How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."