There is an astonishing essay on today’s New York Times editorial page by Errol Morris entitled “The Most Curious Thing.” It is the story surrounding an Abu Ghraib photo showing a grinning American woman soldier giving a thumbs up over the body of an Iraqi who died under torture by the CIA. What is most shocking is that many of the more than 300 comments following the piece either support torturing “terrorists,” or are most interested in dissecting what the woman’s smile might have meant, or prefer to argue simply that “war is hell” to excuse the war crime. To my mind, every time I make the assumption that after nearly eight years of George Bush we as a people cannot sink any lower, I read something like the horror described in the Morris essay and decide that the escalator is still going down. I suppose that is good news for John McCain.
To me one of the most terrible revelations in the essay regarding the GIs running the Abu Ghraib prison is their casual referral to “Palestinian hanging” prisoners. The prisoner would have his hands tied or cuffed behind his back and he would be hoisted up so that he hangs suspended from his wrists, leading eventually to dislocation of both shoulders when the muscles can no longer take the strain. In the case of the Iraqi man in the photo, he was beaten before he was hung up and died as a result of the treatment he received. Just envisioning the procedure makes me slightly nauseous and I cannot even imagine what it would be like to experience it. I also have to wonder how an expression like “Palestinian hanging” came into common usage in the US military, suggesting as it does that the American Army has somehow adopted Israeli interrogation standards. If the Abu Ghraib guards have been using an English translation presumably from Hebrew to describe a technique perfected by Israeli torturers, might that suggest that they or others in their chain of command were also trained by the Israelis?