Friday, May 14, 2004

"Prison torment? It's nothing compared to what we did to each other at sea!"

In a discussion of the torture at Abu Ghraib (he condemns the soldiers who did it and believes that they were ultimately responsible for their own actions, whether or not they were ordered to torment prisoners), this writer inadvertently gives us a glimpse of a system that produces sadists:

Within minutes, another Marine - the Sergeant of the Guard - strolled into the post. He began shouting at the sailor and then directed me to break the sailor's hands with my stick. Stunned, I turned to the sergeant and asked why.

"Don't you dare question me, Smith," he snapped. "Break his f***ing hands."...

And later:

Soldiers and Marines weren't perfect in my day either. On my ship, the abuses young leathernecks endured at the hands of senior Marines was far worse than anything seen in the images from Abu Ghraib. Hazing and other martial rites-of-passage ran the gamut from severe beatings (sometimes to temporary unconsciousness), being stripped naked and shackled to pull-up bars, backs and legs whipped with belts and the flat edges of swords, and bare heads smacked with belts and steel helmets. Blooding winging (a ritual wherein newly graduated Marine parachutists had their jump wings pinned directly into their chests). In one case a Marine private was severely burned — the result of his genitals and abdomen being painted with highly flammable boot-edge dressing and then ignited with a cigarette lighter. This incident nearly resulted in punishment for the Marine commander (who was not present during the incident). But no one ever accused or even suggested that President Ronald Reagan, as commander in chief, had any connection to any of it.

Though the abuses at Abu Ghraib made public thus far, are less severe than what I remember from my hitch on sea duty, they are far worse in the sense that they have been publicized globally, and the victims are enemy prisoners...

It's one of the few insightful articles I've read in the Bloodthirsty Review[TM].

Update: 16/05/2004: The torture was apparently part of a covert Pentagon programme. [Link via LRC] It's interesting that much of the speculation in this article seems to have been correct.
Update: 19/05/2004: Newsweek appears to back up the New Yorker story. [Link via Billmon]