Guest: Joshua Phillips, reporter on the Middle East who has written for the Washington Post, Newsweek, The Nation, Salon, and other publications, talks about his book, None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture.
Our talk covered some familiar ground. We had both attended the Iraq and Afghan vets' Winter Soldier Testimony in DC. Why young military recruits end up torturing and killing civilians is the question future generations will be asking. Of course, now is the time to interview returning vets and gather the necessary testimony.
Joshua gave us many insights. Torture doesn't really provide any meaningful intelligence, so why do it? For US military personnel, the experience of willfully injuring, sexually humiliating, and finally murdering civilians creates such moral trauma that returning vets face a lifetime of depression and anger. Torture is an act that destroys both the victim and the perpetrator.
There were questions about who was responsible. Those at the top, or naive soldiers brought up to admire military heros and violent games? Is it our leaders, our media, or our society that doesn't value cultures outside the empire? Who is to blame? We know that few if any will ever be held accountable.
I think we should also consider Jean-Paul Sartre's Colonialism and Neocolonialism. In the book, Sartre states that all occupations (he writes about Algeria) tend towards the same outcome. As occupied people suffer and die, they realize that fighting is the only way to survive. The occupation creates the resistance. And the resistance creates the torture and mass killings that the imperial country must use on the indigenous populations to maintain control. Could the inhuman behavior that we see in young men and women we sent to fight in the Middle East be a natural result of imperial occupations? Perhaps it is a price the elites of the empire are willing to pay for the obscene profits they earn in war.