America marks a horrible "first" in Iraq: female torturers and army doctors will "make you last"


WATERLOO, ON (3 September 2004) -- Living in the so-called the New American Century -- designed, packaged and marketed by shrewd Washington neo-cons -- has also forced us to witness disgusting made-in-the-U.S. torture techniques in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and in Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

Some of these techniques have been used for the first time and represent more obscene additions to the depraved science of torture. Other methods of politically-sanctioned abuse are old ones, sadistically perfected by the Nazis and adopted by many other regimes ever since. But American abuse of Iraqi prisoners has marked a grisly first in the history of torture -- the use of women to sexually humiliate men, especially Muslim men.

The recent and much-photographed fierce concentration on men's genitalia by female American military personnel demonstrates a meticulously-constructed technique of psychotic bestial degradation.

While intensely humiliating for any man, sexual subjugation of the kind meted out in Abu Ghraib prison represents the worst possible denigration for Muslim males, who have known only the morality and traditions of a predominantly patriarchal society. Well done, America. You really understand "those people."

One time-honoured technique that Americans in Iraq copied from the Nazi book of torture is the use of attack dogs. The French also used canine attackers during the 1950s, against targeted Algerian men studying in that country. Their horrific story is well documented in a book called "The Gangrene."

Army personnel follow orders, period. That holds true for any army, in any country, at any time. Thus, no torture program can begin or end on an underling's whim; it must be ordered by authorities in the chain of command, regardless of what American military PR spin-doctors would have us believe.

For example, the use of "bad guard - good guard" interrogation pairs is a time-honoured textbook approach to obtaining information, accompanied by physical and/or psychological torture.

The "bad" guard administers the brute force, while the "good" one will convincingly beg the prisoner to answer the interrogations fully with a vague promise of eventual respite and release. The alternative is ever-increasing pressure and pain from a nauseous list that includes kicking, hitting, punching, electric shock, toxic drug injections, suspension by fingers or toes, as well as deprivation of sleep, food, water, and essential medical treatment.

But for so many Abu Ghraib victims, the ultimate ordeal has been the addition of sexual torture, where naked prisoners were forced into perverted acts and poses in front of fellow inmates. In its warped intelligence the American military then added the almost unthinkable variation; delegating young women soldiers to achieve the inevitable, but unwilling, sexual arousal of their subjugated male prisoners.

The world got to see photos and videos of a young woman giving the thumbs-up sign after "finishing the job" as guards looked on with laughter. No wonder the Washington Post web site, which has posted still and moving pictures of this disgrace for the past few months, attracted the highest internet "hit count" of any newspaper in worldwide web history.

The use of high-voltage electrodes at sensitive points on the human body, especially the genitalia, has long been practiced by professional torturers. It's an exacting skill among the sadistic arts, requiring careful training to increase the current gradually enough to create maximum pain, while stopping short of killing the victim.

That is why no one should believe that the Abu Ghraib torturers committed their atrocities on an untutored whim; it just could not happen that way. There is a chain of command and it was fully operational.

Now we come to another old technique used by the Americans, but only recently reported by the media. This is called "our doctors will make them last."

The Nazis showed the world how essential it is for doctors and other medical technicians to be part of the torture team. It's simple, really -- their job is to revive prisoners when they faint or collapse. For the objective is not to kill the prisoner, but to keep him or her alive long enough to talk and give up valuable information, even if they don't have any.

Medical intervention is also psychologically vital, for it prevents the prisoner from becoming resigned to death, or hoping for death as a final release from unbearable pain. Neither option is allowed, because the doctors won't let it happen; they are there to ensure that the tortured prisoner "lasts."

In the August 2004 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Steven Miles published a comprehensive report titled "Abu Ghraib: Its Legacy for Military Medicine," in which he writes: "Government documents show that the U.S. military medical system failed to protect detainees' human rights, sometimes collaborated with interrogators or abusive guards, and failed to properly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings." Later he continues, "An inquiry into the behaviour of medical personnel in places such as Abu Ghraib could lead to valuable reforms within military medicine."

But when the medical personnel are themselves paid professionals on the torture team, there is little need of an inquiry to confirm the obvious.

Nothing was done to prevent these acts of torture, absolutely nothing. In fact, zealous efforts were made to facilitate and condone them, from the American president and administration, through the top levels of army leadership, on down to the lowest rank-and-file soldiers.

More horrifying is the premeditated endorsement of extreme treatment that has been deemed acceptable for years, as evidenced by key military memoranda.

As recently as 2002 and 2003 Justice Department and Defense Department notices circulated that distinguished permissable inhumane, or degrading treatment in U.S. military detention facilities from torture, as defined by the Geneva Convention. Although torture is theoretically banned in the U.S., the President can set even that restriction aside when exercising his so-called discretionary wartime powers.

Such memoranda also do not distinguish between abusive interrogation methods involving only soldiers, from those employing adjunct medical personnel or similar expertise. Those cited from 2002 and 2003 both condone the use of "truth" drugs, and neither mentions medical or psychiatric ethics as related to human rights.

In fact, the department of the Secretary of Defense approved methods such as nudity, isolation, and fear of dogs in a 2002 directive on how to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects at the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility -- America's very own Abu Ghraib.

In April of this year, those same guidelines were revised to respond to international concerns that some of the authorized techniques, such as threats, insults, or intimidation, violate the Geneva Convention. Yet the document adds a statement saying, "Nothing in this memorandum in any way restricts your existing authority to maintain good order and discipline among detainees."

We civilians can only wonder at this and question what happens when an army -- in this case the American army, entrusted to protect its nation -- becomes an agent of torture.

In this case, the military are not the sole guilty parties. A large measure, perhaps the majority of guilt, rests with the President and his Administration, closely followed by an American public too apathetic to raise its voice in responsible protest.

*Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He can be reached at

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