Private Lynndie England has now become the poster child for "democracy in the Middle East," the ultimate goal that President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair invoked to justify their current adventure. All over the vast, oil-rich region, people see young Lynndie leering at a naked Iraqi with a sack over his head as he masturbates at her command.
Her sadistic fun and games - along with even more disgusting photos and stories of male rape and deadly beatings - play directly into the hands of puritanical, anti-Western Muslim preachers and suicidal Fools of God. How righteous Osama must feel when he hears that the young woman, a reservist in the Military Police, was shipped back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after becoming pregnant in Iraq.
But Lynndie was not just having a good time, even if she seemed to enjoy her work. A prison guard in a special high-security cellblock run by military intelligence, she was doing what the shadowy types had asked her to do, which was to humiliate and disorient Iraqi prisoners prior to interrogation.
Once CBS News televised the photos, President Bush and everyone else proclaimed themselves suitably shocked, horrified, disgusted, and appalled. They condemned the small number of people who committed these shameful aberrations. They denied any systematic abuse. And they piously pleaded that the world, especially the outraged Muslim World, not think ill of our brave men and women in uniform.
What else could they say?
But no matter. It was all too late. Sy Hersh - the reporter who won a Pulitizer for exposing the American massacre of Vietnamese non-combatants at My Lai - had already unearthed one of Washington's shabbier secrets. Writing in the New Yorker, Hersh cited a secret, 53-page U.S. Army report by Major General Antonio Taguba, who said in so many words that the physical and psychological torture was systematic, intended, and officially promoted.
Lynndie England and her poorly trained fellow guards were not just gook-bashing because they could, nor were they simply mindless youngsters with too much freedom, as in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. They were, far more, cogs in an infernal machine. Military intelligence, CIA officials, and private contractors had instructed them, in Gen. Taguba's phrase, to "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses."
Lynndie will likely pay a price, as she should, for doing what she was told - and for being dumb enough to pose for the pictures. Six of her fellow MPs are under criminal investigation, while some of their Army superiors have received severe reprimands for lackluster command and loss of control, though not for the torture itself.
If public pressure mounts, Washington may chuck overboard some of the CIA and military intelligence officers, along with private contractors who helped translate and interrogate. In the meantime, the Army brass is rushing to fix a prison system that is clearly collapsing, and has given the job to Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, the former detention camp commander at Guantanamo Bay.
On an earlier visit to Iraq, Gen. Miller recommended that military police guards act as "enablers" for interrogations, as Pvt. England was doing. Now, he will no doubt build "a firewall" to allow his fellow-officers to plausibly deny knowing about the seamier side of American intelligence. He might also want to ban personal cameras.
But for all the honeyed words and hurried reforms, American torture will not stop. The CIA and military intelligence will continue to hurt, humiliate, and attempt to break the prisoners they want to question, and - if they can get away with it - so will our homeland security forces, whether the FBI, a new version of Britain's MI5, or even our local police.
Why so sure?
Because the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Bush Administration have made torture an undeniable tool in their all-embracing War on Terror. When Don Rumsfeld repeatedly told us during the Afghanistan War how much the world had changed, torture was one of the post-911 "changes" he was telegraphing.
In fact, there was less change of direction than natural evolution. The CIA and military intelligence began training foreign armies and police forces in torture techniques many years before. Much of what Americans now do in Iraq comes right out of the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, published in 1963, and their updated Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, published in 1983. Both became public in 1997, when the Baltimore Sun won an epic Freedom of Information battle against the CIA in an investigation of the agency's involvement in Central America.
From the opening battles in Afghanistan, American troops used these same techniques, having obviously learned them months and years earlier. Only before September 11, any use had to be limited and hush-hush, while in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo, the soldiers and CIA advisors employed them on an industrial scale, often in partial view.
The first clue became visible at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, when American soldiers systematically put cloth sacks over the heads of their captives, whether al-Qaeda, Taliban, or some poor Afghan villager mistakenly taken prisoner. Mistakes might - or might not - be sorted out later. We were fighting a War on Terror.
In part, a hood, blindfold, or spray-painted goggles made prisoners easier to control. But the visual deprivation began the process of disorienting them, enhancing psychological stress as the CIA's torture manuals recommended.
The troops kept the prisoners standing or kneeling in painful positions for hours at a time, forced them into other agonizing postures, often stripped them naked, humiliated them non-stop, threatened them, deprived them of sufficient food and sleep, or left them in freight containers, where they suffered extremes of heat and cold. The soldiers also withheld medical treatment and needed medication, especially painkillers, and kicked their prisoners around a bit, just to show who was boss.
For selected captives, like those on the long flight to Guantanamo, the sensory deprivation became more elaborate. Full-face hoods took away their sight and some of their hearing. Thick gloves reduced their sense of touch. The 30-hour flight to a completely unknown destination added to the effect, cutting them off from anything known and reassuring.
Mindful of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties, insiders tried to spin what they were doing as only "torture lite" or "stress and duress." The goal, as the CIA manuals explained, was not to inflict pain, but "to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist."
Where earlier, more obvious brutality often stiffened resistance by creating a battle of wills between torturer and victim, the new techniques set the conflict within the captive's own body and mind, eating away at his or her adult personality and creating a child-like state of dependence.
"Stress and duress" left few physical scars and baffled casual observers, who saw none of the classic instruments of torture. When those were wanted, the CIA and military intelligence generally flew prisoners to Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, or the Philippines.
"We don't kick the [expletive] out of them," an insider told the Washington Post. "We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
All hail America's global torture machine, in which Pvt. Lynndie England played her small part, finding creative and culturally powerful ways to humiliate and break Iraqi captives. We can only wonder what secrets her victims subsequently revealed. But even if what they told led to Saddam's capture, the information would hardly be worth the damage that getting it by torture has now done to the occupation of Iraq, the long-term security of Middle East oil supplies, and the hope for democratic reform anywhere - except perhaps in the United States.