The Crime of Not 'Looking Backward'

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald writes regularly for Salon, where this piece originally appeared.

early December, a report from Seton Hall University cast serious doubt
on the government's claims regarding the alleged simultaneous
"suicides" of three Guantanamo detainees in June, 2006.  I wrote about
that report here.  Yesterday, Harper's Scott Horton published an extraordinary new article
casting even further doubt on the official version of events, compiling
new, stomach-turning evidence (much of it from Guantanamo
guards) strongly suggesting (without proving or concluding) that those
detainees were tortured to death, and those acts then covered-up by
making their deaths appear to be suicides.  Scott's article should be
read in its entirety, though Andrew Sullivan has highlighted some of
the critical revelations, including the motives of the whistle-blowing guards and the details of the torture to which these detainees were subjected.

I want to note two points from all of this:

The single biggest lie in War on Terror revisionist history is that our
torture was confined only to a handful of "high-value" prisoners.  New
credible reports of torture continuously emerge.  That's because
America implemented and maintained a systematic torture regime spread
throughout our worldwide, due-process-free detention system.  There
have been at least 100 deaths of detainees in American custody who died during or as the result of interrogation.  Gen. Barry McCaffrey said:  "We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A."  Gen. Antonio Taguba said
after investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses and finding they were part
and parcel of official policy sanctioned at the highest levels of
the U.S. Government, and not the acts of a few
"rogue" agents:  "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the
current administration has committed war crimes.  The only question
that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of
torture will be held to account."

Despite all of this,
our media persists in sustaining the lie that the torture controversy
is about three cases of waterboarding and a few "high-value" detainees
who were treated a bit harshly.  That's why Horton's story received so
little attention and was almost completely ignored by right-wing
commentators:  because it shatters the central myth that torture was
used only in the most extreme cases -- virtual Ticking Time Bomb
scenarios -- when there was simply no other choice.  Leading American
media outlets, as a matter of policy, won't even use the word
"torture."  This, despite the fact that the abuse was so brutal and
inhumane that it led to the deaths of helpless captives -- including
run-of-the-mill detainees, almost certainly ones guilty of absolutely
nothing -- in numerous cases.  These three detainee deaths -- like so
many other similar cases -- illustrate how extreme is the myth that has
taken root in order to obscure what was really done.


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Incidents like this dramatically underscore what can only be called the
grotesque immorality of the "Look Forward, Not Backwards" consensus
which our political class -- led by the President -- has embraced. 
During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of
the most egregious crimes a government can commit.  They plainly
violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to
which the U.S. has long been a party.  Despite that, not only has
President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not
only has his Justice Department made clear that -- at most -- they will
pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama
administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes
concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them
as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.

Obama-justifying excuse for Looking Forward, Not Backwards has been
exposed as a sham (recall, for instance, the claim that we couldn't
prosecute Bush war crimes because it would ruin bipartisanship and
Republicans wouldn't support health care reform).   But even if those
excuses had been had been factually accurate, it wouldn't have
mattered.  There are no legitimate excuses for averting one's eyes from
crimes of this magnitude and permitting them to go unexamined and
unpunished.  The real reason why "Looking Forward, Not Backwards" is so
attractive to our political and media elites is precisely because they
don't want to face what they enabled and supported.  They want to
continue to believe that it just involved the quick and necessary
waterboarding of three detainees and a few slaps to a handful of
the Worst of the Worst.  Only a refusal to "Look Backwards" will enable
the lies they have been telling (to the world and to themselves) to be
sustained.  But as Horton's story illustrates, there are real victims
and genuine American criminals -- many of them -- and anyone who wants
to keep that concealed and protected is, by definition, complicit in
those crimes, not only the ones that were committed in the past, but
similar ones that almost certainly, as a result of Not Looking
Backwards, will be committed in the future.

* * * * *

Horton was on Countdown last night,
and he and Keith Olbermann did a rather good job of laying out the
facts, including the Obama administration's refusal to investigate any
of this:

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