Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture American Style: A Short Story

Full disclosure: This piece was written immediately after the Abu Ghraib story broke. It was meant for an anthology on America and torture but never published: the publishers decided - I guess - it was a bit too controversial. Think its a good moment to share it what with the new torture memos being released:

Pentagon says response to controversial ad overwhelming

By: Jeffrey Dahmer

WASHINGTON, April 1: Pentagon officials announced today that the response to a controversial recruitment advertisement for women interrogators has been overwhelming.

Maj. Chuck Tarrington, spokesman for the Pentagon announced that the advertisement recruiting “all-American” female interrogators to assist in the nation’s war against terrorism had met with unprecedented success. “We have received over ten thousand applications in less than six weeks,” Tarrington said.

The advertisement formed part of the military´s recently expanded programme for highly aggressive interrogation techniques. The advertisement specifically asked for “all-American” women between the ages of 18 and 25, “of sound moral standing,” to work as civilian contractors on interrogation sites “in U.S. bases around the world.” The advertisement promised “special uniforms,” “trips to foreign countries,” and “position of power” as job perks to women who would ultimately be hired.

In recent months, under fire for using physical torture, the military has chosen to expand its use of women as part of its increasingly aggressive psychological interrogation tactics against terrorism suspects. United States prison camps in Guantanamo, Sudan and Phillipines have widely reported the use of sexual references including touching and wearing erotic clothing by female interrogators to break Muslim detainees, who consider it taboo to have close contact with women who aren’t their wives.

“Thongs, miniskirts and high heels are the standard uniform for women interrogators,” Terrence Haliburt, former Army colonel who commanded the Guantanamo detention camp for over two year explains. “And they are extremely effective.”

The advertisement has come under fire from equal opportunity groups. Willa Reese, president for Association for Equal Rights in the Military for Women of Colour (ERMWC) protests the “racial and sectarian discrimination practised by the programme.” “We understand that all-American is simply a code for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant women. We feel that the conditions deny black and Hispanic women the right to serve the nation as well as to those who may be aligned with the Catholic church or other Christian movements,” she said.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, a senior Pentagon official pointed out white, blonde women consistently produced better results in the detainee interrogation programme. “There is a certain image that these people have of America, and it makes better tactical sense to push forward on that front.”

One of the key backers for the Pentagon’s new interrogation programme is Senator Tim Wright, also president of the National Coalition of Christian Organizations, who justified the programme on moral and strategic grounds. “We are living the clash of civilizations, which is why we must use all available resources. And who better to defend our way of life than young women with strong moral convictions,” he said.

Human rights groups have also criticized the new programme. “The new tactics appropriately reject the use of torture. But they do nothing about cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which is also prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” says Jeremy Foster, legal advisor for the Human Rights Watch.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly defended the use of psychological interrogation tactics as more humane than those using physical force or torture. “U.S. forces treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, humanely and consistent with legal obligations prohibiting torture,” Tarrington said.

Until recently, female interrogators played little or no part in the U.S.’s increasingly aggressive war on terrorism. However, the new programme will expand their role significantly. Tarrington said, “the new recruitment drive intends to ensure that female interrogators form at least 40 percent of the total corps.” He refused to explain what that would mean in sheer numbers. “The number of interrogators needed at any given time is determined by strategic and tactical considerations. There is no magic figure, unless of course its 34-28-36,” he said amidst peals of laughter from the audience.