Monday, November 21, 2011

Americans and Torture, No Problemo!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Not that anybody cares, but the U.S. just celebrated the tenth anniversary of a monstrous milestone. On November 13, 2001, Bush legalized kidnappings, indefinite detention, secret military tribunals and hidden prisons for any suspected terrorist. Or suspected supporter of terrorism.

He ordered them all classified as military combatants. Except when it came time to applying the Geneva Convention. In which case they weren’t. Because the Geneva Convention gave soldiers certain rights. And he didn’t want to give terrorism suspects any. He wanted to make them something other than human. Something less than worms. Like queers.

Who are locked up for decades in prison-like schools and homes, tortured to within an inch of their lives without recourse to outside aid, tried by their grade school peers with scanty evidence under unspecified laws. And even released, are suspicious characters still subject to beatings, harassment, indefinite detention. Exile. Death in secret prisons.

“it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.”

What do Americans have if not the law? Our moral purity? The Pledge of Allegiance declares our nation is under god. Not the constitution, or rule of law. Relying on god is a particular disaster in a protestant nation where individuals are encouraged to find their personal relationship to the deity, interpret the bible for themselves.

To Protestants like Bush, laws themselves are just phrases made up of words, and words like “torture” can be redefined to mean whatever suits our purposes. And in the casually minted dictionary popularized by Bush and Company, torture is a synonym for death. Anything less is only an interrogation “technique.”

Nobody protested much when Bush signed the order. Even in 2004, when disgusting images of Abu Ghraib flooded the internet, and the world was outraged, few Americans cared. Plenty even said those Muslims deserved it. Whether or not it produced information.

Americans, frankly, are indifferent to torture. I guess we don’t think it can happen to us. Or we’re more degenerate than I thought. It’s the only explanation for why Guantanamo’s still up and running, despite periodic statements from Obama that he’ll close the place down. One of these days. When Congress lets him. And why military tribunals are alive and well for terror suspects like Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, that was arrested before this directive and should have faced trial in a civilian court, instead of being held for ten years, sometimes in a CIA black site where he was tortured.

We are still engaging in extraordinary rendition (kidnapping). And while Obama did issue a directive ending torture, at least where we can see it, and “black sites” were theoretically closed in 2009, the CIA's perfectly happy to operate in support modes in foreign countries like Somalia when somebody else’s hands get dirty. They do their own questioning in temporary, deniable sites, like, for instance, a Navy vessel, where Somali terror suspect, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, was held and "interrogated” for weeks before being transferred to FBI custody and brought to the United States.

Even that fig leaf might disappear soon. GOP candidates are calling for the return of torture as if it were just a couple of licks with the paddle in high school. Bachman and Cain have come right out and said they’d support waterboarding. Rick Perry has declared he’d approve any technique at all that might “save young lives.” Mitt Romney’s said, “Enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used. Not torture, but enhanced interrogation techniques. Yes.”

To which Marc Theissen, Washington Post columnist, and former speechwriter for Rumsfeld, responded with joy and enthusiasm. “The willingness of so many Republican presidential candidates to speak out in defense of waterboarding is encouraging.” If he was horrified that the Obama administration was now killing terrorists with drones, it was because without “live captures,” they’d lose the opportunity for more waterboarding.

I understand greed better than this. Bankers amassing more and more money. Repossessing houses from people that will just have to find something to rent instead. Sucking up bailouts and awarding themselves huge bonuses because to some extent they can keep the idea of damage abstract. Who is my great wealth really hurting? Can you prove it was me?

With torture there’s no question. You know exactly who it that is feeling pain and exactly who is imposing it. Real flesh is being tortured, real minds. So why do Good Americans do it? All the science says it doesn’t work as a way to get information. U.S. and international law says it's wrong. Most religion says it’s an abomination. Is it because we believe Americans are exceptional? Despite our beastly behavior, we’re human, and our victims less than the bloody roosters we weep over, or eat?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

After Sandusky, Back to Being Pedophiles

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach at Penn State, had such a passion for underprivileged boys that he started his own foundation, The Second Mile, to help them whether they wanted it or not. "Sometimes they don't want it. Sometimes they don't understand what you're trying to do, but they want to be disciplined." That was a statement from his creepy '87 interview with NBC.

Now he's facing 40 counts of rape and assault, including two occasions at the school. Once, a janitor saw him "hugging" a young boy in the shower. Another time, an assistant coach actually saw him raping a kid. They both reported the occasions to their bosses, and when the bosses did nothing, they didn't pursue.

And if Sandusky's a criminal and perv, what do you call the circle of more than 15 men who knew he was abusing kids and let it go on? Even a bishop would have been troubled enough, at least for the sake of the institution, to move the guy to a different parish. But in the cloistered world of football, old Jerry stayed right where he was.

As for the students who rioted on behalf of the legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who got canned for turning a blind eye, well, I guess they don't think the lives of "underprivileged" boys count for much, not next to that of the winningest coach ever. With a wife and five kids, all Penn State grads, doing their bit to stack the stadium with 17(!) grandkids, Paterno had nothing to do with that homo Sandusky.

Yeah, that's right. Already in sports forums online, commenters are once again busy conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Probably somewhere down the line, we'll even hear that poor Jerry was abused himself as a child. And the circle of guilt and blame will be offloaded -- again -- onto us queers, homos, fags (words not invoked in our slightly ironic, bittersweet way, but hatefully, with a slightly curled lip).

My only new thought is that the persistence of this stereotype is partly our own fault. The closer we get to legal equality, the more closeted we get about gay sex. Maybe it started with AIDS, when we wanted to separate gayness from sex because of the stigma of the disease.

But this sexlessness has gotten even more intense as our institutions have begun to focus on same-sex marriage. We mostly stick to talking points about the equal rights we want to win, like social security benefits, or the ability to file joint taxes. But more than anything, we wax lyrical about consecrating the love between two people who just happen to be of the same gender. Love, love, love, love, love. We want them to forget that those happily married couples will no doubt have sex, because that's what the bigots hate.

Two men getting it on. Two women. They have dirty minds. They imagine us as animals. With children. They work themselves up into pure disgust. That's probably what kept the Penn State guys in denial about Sandusky (who actually was doing all that), as much as the fear of what it would do to their football program.

And our fear of that fear, that disgust, is what drives lesbians and gay men into the sex closet, even as more and more of us are open about our "identities." It's why we've abandoned gay kids to bullies in schools. Get too close, somebody might think something ugly about us. And on the few occasions that lesbians or gay men have tried to do something about schools, our worst critics have been other queers.

I was a Lesbian Avenger. In 1992, for our first action, we demonstrated in favor of New York City's ill-fated Rainbow Curriculum, which was supposed to teach kids to respect each other. Most of it was about ethnicity, but out of the 440-something pages, six actually mentioned lesbians and gay men. So there was a huge backlash.

Our action: going to an elementary school with a marching band, handing out pamphlets with info about famous LGBT people, and balloons that said, "Ask about lesbian lives." Our t-shirts read, "I was a lesbian child." A few parents were upset, but most weren't. Our intent was clear: telling people to get informed and chill out about the whole thing.

And while Christian extremists responded the way they always did, the surprise was the queers. They were horrified that we'd gone to a school, like they were sacred places. Full of children. My god.

It's the same today. We'd rather let kids get bullied and abused and kill themselves than help them and risk getting called pedophiles ourselves. What does that say about us? And nothing will change until we get those bigots out of our heads and scream to the world, "We fuck. So what?"