No More Naked Emperors

I have been looking at our naked emperor for so long, I have forgotten what he looks like dressed. I know that here on Common Dreams, there are many like-minded folks. What I cannot understand is why the majority of Americans do not see what we see.

Take the fuss that began with the incidents at Abu Ghraib. Why would it surprise anyone that Americans would engage in torture in a war zone? Americans who believe that torture is something new or unique in our history are fooling themselves. The CIA-supported counter-insurgency movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador all made liberal use of this method of interrogation.

John Stockwell, a former Marine from a military family; a thirteen-year veteran of the CIA, former CIA station chief in Angola during its civil war, and the one of the first CIA operatives to go public about its covert operations, recounts the CIA's training of those governments to torture their opposition in what he called "the U.S. war against the Third World."

In 1987, he wrote, "The CIA was working with police forces throughout Latin America for about 26 years, teaching them how to wrap up subversive networks by capturing someone and interrogating them, torturing them, and then getting names and arresting the others and going from there."

They developed a wire. They gave them crank generators, with `U.S. AID' written on the side, so the people even knew where these things came from. They developed a wire that was strong enough to carry the current and fine enough to fit between the teeth, so you could put one wire between the teeth and the other one in or around the genitals and you could crank and submit the individual to the greatest amount of pain, supposedly, that the human body can register.

Stockwell's accounts are on the public record and available on the Internet despite our government's efforts to suppress them. Moreover, he is not the only former CIA agent to go public. Philip Agee, a now discredited former CIA agent made similar allegations. (He is discredited because he publicized the names of several CIA agents. Yet this government did just that to former CIA agent Valerie Plame and no one has gone to jail for that breach.)

Moreover, the CIA has not changed its ways; in addition to its own channels, leaders in the Western Hemisphere continue to train at the School of the Americas, in 2001 renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. This "school" has graduated many Latin American dictators. Bolivian president Evo Morales has just signed an order forbidding the training of Bolivian officers there. You can be sure that officially or unofficially, our government will express its displeasure with Bolivia's resistance.

So why are people unaware of it? Why do they brand as traitors anyone who dares to speak out?

Stockwell says, "What you have to understand is the politics of paranoia," he writes. "The easiest... buttons to punch are the buttons of macho, aggression, paranoia, hate, anger, and fear."

I believe that it is the residue of thousands of years of patriarchal thinking. Most recently, Ronald Reagan lied about the sale of guns to the Iranians to get money to finance the Contras (former guard of dictator Somoza) because he felt that he and those in the nerve center of the country understood the FULL implication of supporting the Contras and the American public could not.

George W. Bush appears to be equally patriarchal. He will not tell us the truth because he thinks we cannot handle the truth. Some things must be done behind closed doors; apparently torturing people with whom we are at odds are among those things. Our natural instinct is towards patriotism. We want to love our country and believe it is a shining light unto nations but until those in charge eschew the covert operations and teaching of state-sponsored terror, we must face honestly the consequences of our dirty work.

You've heard the caveat that ignorance of the law is no excuse. I would like to amend that: Ignorance is no excuse. We have in the web the most accessible path to knowledge about everything. We can find the answers to our questions just by logging in.

But we have to log on. We have to dig out the information. As John Stockwell says, "Read. You have to read to inform yourselves."

And once we know what the score is, we must demand that our leaders live up to the American ideals of which we are so proud. We must demand accountability. Until we demand accountability from our leaders and set aside our naivety; until we become active citizens instead of passive drones, the skullduggery will continue in our name.

Rosa MarAfAa Pegueros is an Associate Professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

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