In this week’s readings, Phillips and Puar explore the various circumstances that led to U.S. prisoner abuse during the war on terror. In his attempts to investigate and comprehend U.S. prisoner abuse, Phillips becomes frustrated by the U.S. government’s unfailing ability to justify, mitigate, and deny acts of torture. One of the questions that Phillips tries to answer in these chapters is who should be held accountable for these acts of torture. In a terrorist search that lacked necessary detailed intelligence to make arrests, received minimal explicit instructions from superior military officers, and depended on make-shift/ rudimentary interrogation techniques based on hearsay stories and improvisation, Phillips puts most of the blame on superior government and military officials. The soldiers received impossibly general leads and even the photographs of suspects they carried with them were blurry, which resulted in the arrest of “anyone who resembled them” (Phillips, 58). While Phillips blames military superiors for giving implied consent to their troops to carry out cruel interrogation techniques, he is unconvinced that U.S. troops were “doing the best they could.” In class last Thursday we talked about national myths and stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions. While I’m more likely to blame the actions of these soldiers on the extreme situations in which they were thrown and a lack of guidance from superiors, it is inaccurate to say there were doing the best they could because they took pleasure in degrading and terrorizing prisoners. It is more accurate to say that these soldiers were doing the best they could to protect themselves and national security. The argument and the myth is that concerns for national security take priority over any considerations for human rights and anti-torture laws. Similarly, in the face of enemy threats, the soldiers did not regard their prisoners as vulnerable beings, but rather blood-thirsty, American-hating terrorists. As we learned from Butler, if we do not recognize someone as vulnerable, we dehumanize them and cannot grieve for them. When one of the soldiers physically assaulted a prisoner, he “wasn’t thinking about another human being-wasn’t worried about how he thought, if he was embarrassed” (Phillips, 63).
While I did sympathize with stories of innocent prisoners who were tortured by U.S. troops, I couldn’t help but feel a guilty satisfaction when reading about the story of Mohammed al Qahtani’s suffering. Qahtani, who would have been one of the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks if he wasn’t stopped by U.S. authorities in Florida, was sent to Guantanomo to be interrogated. They subjected him to intense isolation for three months and he “was tortured so badly that his heart rate droopped to thirty-five beats per minute-about half the average heart rate of a healthy adult” (Phillips, 70). Before finding out the identity of the prisoner, the story rattled me and provoked sympathy from me; it “shocked my conscience.” Upon learning he was a would-be hijacker, I was satisfied with the cruel way they treated him and I can understand how a soldier could succumb to savage behavior. The 9/11 attacks hit home in such an intimate way that I feel disgust and hatred for anyone involved in the plot and because of that I ceased to regard them as human. Puar states,”the reaction of rage, while to some extent laudable, misses the point entirely-or perhaps more generously, upstages a denial of culpability” (Puar, 13). Is it the human response to punish an inhumane act with inhumane torture? While Phillips focuses on physical pain inflicted on prisoners, Puar examines humiliation and sexual torture. As noted in class on Thursday, colonialism is always closely connected to power relations, owning, and rape. But, are these acts of rape and torture distinctly American or are they just the products of war mentality? Also, another question that I thought about when reading: Is there any way that we can justify torture? Both authors seem to suggest that there is no science that indicates torture works during interrogation. Moreover, the instances of torture that they cite suggest that U.S. torture has been cruel, misguided, and unforgiveable. If torture is an unacceptable part of the interrogation process, how are we to get information from suspected terrorists? Or, would you argue that these authors make a case not only against torture, but against war worldwide?