American Terrorism: Evil vs. Empathy; Authority vs. Conscience, Part 1

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, spunky, high school grad Teresa Wright discovers her beloved uncle is a serial killer. Wright’s subsequent efforts to protect herself and others from psychopathic Joseph Cotten are continually frustrated by the extraordinary denial of her family and her community lost in the “thrall” of the worldly, smooth-talking Uncle Charlie. Heartbroken and distraught, she must contend with her uncle’s violent agenda while being obstructed by a naive and vulnerable community of his enablers and/or soon to be victims.

Wright’s predicament of horror resonates as I witness my – our – psychopathic (proverbial) uncle – Uncle Sam, the U.S. government – perpetrate violent crime upon crime against humanity enabled by a maddening, morally mute, over-trusting, under-informed citizenry.

I can’t wrap my mind or heart around the lack of outrage and empathy among my leaders and the vast majority of my fellow citizens. The Iraq war was launched illegally. The torture program is against the law. The Geneva Convention was ratified by Congress. Habeas corpus has been in place since 1679. The atrocity of 9/11 apparently justified a “gloves off” bloodlust defiance of the legal and moral pillars of our democracy. All these years since, the mandate for constitutional and moral justice "for all" goes unheeded.

John Pilger writes in his article, Mourn on the 4th of July:

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that "everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but "US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all". It is as if "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening . . . You have to hand it to America . . . masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

I want Pilger to be wrong about our history and this promising new administration. But I am learning more and more of our real “Ugly American” history. And the U.S. militarism I had thought was fueled by the Bushco neocons undeniably has escalated under Obama. Also, the Geneva Convention’s rules of engagement and the writ of habeas corpus go unrestored. In fact, serious amounts of our taxpayer dollars are now and most likely will be spent for the legal defenses of the major architects of illegal torture challenged by their alleged victims.

I was stunned to read that only 29% of the citizenry are against torture of any kind. It awes me to hear torture being justified, normalized, decriminalized by the military, citizenry, politicians, media, and those government lawyers that parsed the letter of the law, trashing its obvious spirit, minimizing the savagery of torture with euphemistic labels that are obligingly echoed by much of the corporate media. "Enhanced interrogation techniques." Monstrous methods of inflicting debilitating psychological and physical pain on victims. Techniques that along with being illegal are universally regarded as unreliable. Reliable only in generating false confessions.

I put on a black armband about two months ago. I needed to concretely register my outrage at what had been immorally and illegally done by my country’s agents. I was troubled by the slowness of this new, seemingly reasonable administration to acknowledge accountability and offer us, deceived citizens, reassurance that such atrocities would not continue and acknowledge culpability to those innocent people whose lives had been damaged and in some cases, over one hundred, literally destroyed by torture (i.e., killed from overzealous torturing).

I had hope this new government would be — well — “stand-up” — transparent — would exhibit basic and common decency. Since only a fraction of the Guantanamo detainees have proven to be legitimate suspects (in blatant contradiction to the lying talking points of our corporate media-courted ex-vice president), some official expression of regret seemed the minimum due those released after having been erroneously rendered, caged and tortured for in some cases seven interminable years. I have heard that a part of the conditions for a detainee’s release involved signing a confidentiality, denial and/or non-liability waiver. A final grand act of psychological torture, it would certainly seem.

One erroneously rendered man, Khalid El-Masri, has not been silent and has presented an outrageous tale of injustice. This from Wikipedia.

El-Masri travelled from his home in Ulm to go on vacation in Skopje at the end of 2003. He was detained by Macedonian border officials on December 31, 2003. …. He was held in a motel in the Republic of Macedonia for over three weeks and questioned about his activities, his associates, and the mosque he attended in Ulm.

The Macedonian authorities also contacted the local CIA station, who in turn contacted the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.


… a "black snatch team", came to Skopje, and detained him. El-Masri alleges that they beat him, stripped him naked, drugged him, and gave him an enema. He was then dressed in a diaper and a jumpsuit, and flown to Baghdad, then immediately to "the salt pit", a covert CIA interrogation center in Afghanistan which contained prisoners from Pakistan, Tanzania, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.


El-Masri wrote in the Los Angeles Times that, while held in Afghanistan, he was beaten and repeatedly interrogated. He has also claimed that he was sodomized. He was kept in a bare, squalid cell, given only meager rations to eat and putrid water to drink. In February, CIA officers in Kabul began to suspect his passport was genuine. The passport was sent to the CIA headquarters in Langley where in March the CIA’s Office of Technical Services concluded it was indeed genuine.

Discussion over what to do with El-Masri included secretly transporting him back to Republic of Macedonia, without informing German authorities, dumping him, and denying any claims he made. In the end they did inform the German government, without apologizing, and were able to persuade the Germans to remain silent. In March 2004 El-Masri took part in a hunger strike, demanding that his captors afford him due process or watch him die. After 27 days without eating, he forced a meeting with the prison director and a CIA officer known as "The Boss". They conceded he should not be imprisoned but refused to release him. El-Masri continued his hunger strike for 10 more days until he was force-fed and given medical attention. He had lost more than 60 pounds since his abduction in Skopje.

In April 2004, CIA Director George Tenet learned that El-Masri was being wrongfully detained. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice learned of his detention shortly thereafter in early May and ordered his release. El-Masri was released on May 28 following a second order from Rice. They flew him out of Afghanistan and released him at night on a desolate road in Albania, without apology, or funds to return home. He claimed that at the time he believed his release was a ruse, and he would be executed. He was eventually intercepted by Albanian guards, who believed him to be a terrorist due to his haggard and unkempt appearance. He was subsequently reunited with his wife who had returned to her family in Lebanon, with their children, because she thought her husband had abandoned them.

There is so much appalling in this tale. But most staggering to me was that he was confirmed innocent early in March 2004. He was not released until May 28th. Torture of any of these suspects goes against the Geneva Convention and horrifies. But this officially innocent man was kept caged an additional two months while, for a significant part of that time, the Bush cabal presumably haggled over how best to minimize or cover-up their mistake. Abiding by the so-called 11th commandment, “Don’t Get Caught”. Impression management at all costs. No honor. No integrity. No EMPATHY. They had him unceremoniously dumped in a desolate location. This is what they came up with after such an insane period of callousness.

And American citizens ask innocently, “Why don’t they like us?”

This was to be a short introduction to a sober, non-ranting exploration of what I honestly consider a sociopathological lack of empathy among my fellow citizens and our administrations, past and present. There are sociological and psychological phenomena that foster the empowerment of evil in this world, and we are all susceptible to them, myself very much included. We recognize exhibitions of evil in varying degrees in individuals and ourselves on a daily continuum due to many factors, short or long term. Episodic or chronic stress, addict-/co-addict behavior, neurosis, sociopathy.

But when this evil manifests on such a collective and global level, and echoes the worst periods of the world’s history, it is a profound mystery that demands serious study by those awake enough to protest it. I want to call it “the Satanization of America”. For what I see happening, that is not hyperbolic. At this point in my concerned citizenship, I am moving beyond anger into an awe of the scope of the – well – I can only call it downright and seriously unchallenged evil.

If you can bear with me, I will resume this particular investigation in a Part 2, upcoming Seminal diary.

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