Dr. Lifton’s piece is by no means new, but it remains relevant as stories continue to surface concerning doctors’ (and I use that word advisedly) participation in torture, and even “experimentation.” Why didn’t Josef Mengele’s name come up at some point? Sometimes, we choose not to remember those things that would otherwise unduly complicate our own lives. Maybe that’s what’s happened here. All I know is that the Second World War should have proven the utter barbarity of any such experiments on prisoners, turning them into de facto lab rats. Mengele, of course, faithfully documented his “work” (some of which documents “fell into the hands of” the US as Mengele fled). Fascinating, no?
So the US winds up with that same historical stain, and there’s no getting rid of it—no oath to revisionism will ever matter now. When you consider related aspects of the wars (the debacle at the embassy in Kabul as one example), it bears remembering that this is how the world sees and judges America—by these images. Frankly, they’re horrifying. Vodka ass-shots? What a waste of perfectly good vodka, except, hold on, they’re in Afghanistan where alcohol use of any kind is, let’s say, distinctly frowned upon. Multiply that times the ass-as-shot-glass and you begin to get an idea how it might look to Muslims. I don’t mean potential defenders of Osama, but middle-of-the-road Muslims who simply want what everyone wants: a decent chance to create a life, contribute, maybe even build/continue a lineage. Of course they’re going to be outraged. Obviously. So would you. To them, this is sacrilege, nothing less.
Which is the point. Any semblence of order has broken down among the “contractors” (let’s just call them mercenaries, because they are), meaning the result looks more than a bit like Lord of the Flies. No one should want this to happen or (surely) continue. The image of the US is down to shards already; this news does no favors.
Update: Eugene Robinson has (as usual) a prescient piece on the subject that’s well worth your time to read. It all begs the question: What do we do when Americans obviously commit war crimes? Here’s a suggestion. There is no “Nuremburg defense,” there’s no explaining your way out of the jackpot you’re in. If you did it, you get it. There is no argument. There is no defense. Nationality doesn’t matter. Americans have to prepare for the day that Americans stand in the dock as Goering, von Ribbentrop, Hess, et al, did before them. Yes, it’s a national disgrace, but we have to suffer through that period “in the wilderness” before any chance of a rehabilitation that matters could ever be possible.