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William Rivers Pitt | Fifteen Years After Iraq Invasion, Torture Has a New Address

The stain of torture remains, like Lady MacBeth’s damned spot.

Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees hold an anti-torture demonstration on the 15th anniversary of Guantánamo's opening on January 11, 2017. The Trump administration continues to perpetuate and glorify torture, exemplified by the recent nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman)

“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Donald Trump, 02/16/2016

Fifteen years ago this week, George W. Bush and his pack of unprosecuted murderers transformed the city of Baghdad into a bowl of fire, “Shock & Awe,” in what was a massive war crime right there on live television. I call it a war crime justly: It was an act based entirely on lies founded in greed and lust for power, for which not one person has been called to account.

Millions of human beings have been butchered, maimed, displaced and undone in those 15 years since the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The war there has actually been going on in one form or another for 27 years now. Yet no one is held accountable even as we slog, year after year, through the drifting ashes of aftermath.

We simply don’t talk about it.

We are allowed, within the narrow confines of permissible debate, to rub our collective woes together and wonder how so much could go so wrong so fast. The physical shock of September 11 doesn’t explain it, but the manner in which that day was used against us certainly fills in the blank spaces. They used it to start a war that has now become several wars, and a few people you’ll never meet continue to swim in the profits.

More than a trillion dollars have been spent so far on the wars, and that’s just the coin on the books, not to mention the trillion or more to be spent as the veterans of that war seek VA care for the damage they will bear all their lives. They are still young, most of those who have survived their multiple tours in the forever wars. They will be with us for a half-century at least, and they deserve every dime we spend on their care. All in all, we will spend plenty on this butcher’s bill.

I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can’t imagine a more farfetched possibility.

We don’t talk about the war and what it has stolen from us, because the politicians and news organizations still live in dread of a reckoning that seems, in the orange light of the now, so terribly and enduringly out of reach. I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can’t imagine a more farfetched possibility. Neptune is closer.

The war in Iraq was and remains a debasing, despicable act the United States may never recover from. It is a moral catastrophe in every respect, one that still wounds us deeply to this day. No aspect of our shame is more vivid than the stain of torture. Some have tried to scrub that stain out of us — President Obama famously whitewashed the horror of it all by admitting “We tortured some folks,” before calling the critics “sanctimonious” and the torturers “patriots” — but it’s still there, like Lady MacBeth’s damned spot.

Now, as we approach the 15th anniversary of Bush’s Iraq invasion, two notorious torturers are poised to assume positions of enormous power within the federal government. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been tapped to replace ignominious failure Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and agency veteran Gina Haspel is set to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA.

Pompeo was quick to denounce the practice during his CIA confirmation hearings, but his political path to power is littered with the broken bodies of torture victims. He did not lay hands on them himself, but was a vocal supporter of the “black sites” where torture took place, and he has championed an Islamophobia so profound that he once blamed all Muslim leaders everywhere for the Boston Marathon bombing. Pompeo’s ardent support for torture is what first caught Donald Trump’s attention, as the president is also an ardent believer in “enhanced interrogation.”

Gina Haspel is another matter entirely. She was not just another pro-war shouter back in DC. Haspel was in it up to her throat. For a time, she ran one of the “black sites,” this one located in Thailand, and was so proud of her work that she destroyed the tapes of her interrogations. For this, she was neither fired nor prosecuted, and pending confirmation will be in charge of one of the largest intelligence organizations in the world.

The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel’s bloody history was positively aerobic.

These are some of the many issues only a thorough investigation can answer, but with torture advocates and practitioners about to control the White House, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, such an investigation is almost certainly never going to happen. “Gina Haspel does not belong as head of the CIA,” journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now! “She belongs in front of a judge, answering to what she was doing, running a torture operation at a black site in Thailand and destroying evidence.”

When the TV news people were covering Tillerson’s sudden departure and Pompeo’s subsequent elevation, the subject of torture actually elbowed its way into the discussion. Suddenly, we were talking about one of the things we never talk about … and it was as vile as every other seedy, shabby element of this ongoing disgrace.

The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel’s bloody history was positively aerobic. There hasn’t been that much televised stammering since the Porky Pig marathon on the Cartoon Network. The sum and substance of their collective conclusion was, “Well, Steve, it … seems to me … that if we … took away … everyone in CIA who … participated … in … torture … well … there wouldn’t … be anyone left … to run the place.”

Now there’s a thought.

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