American Gulag, And A Dogfight Of Psychoses

by Manuel García, Jr.

May 24, 2004   


Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Kunduz/Sheberghan, Mazar-i-Sharif and the Naval Consolidated Brig at Charleston, SC: it is now an acknowledged fact that America has a Gulag Archipelago. Like all empires and coercive ideologies of the past, American Capitalism (ersatz "democracy," "freedom," "free markets," "globalization") has a hidden prison system for the absorption, detention, interrogation, and disappearance of enemies. The true horror here is the depth and age of the ignorance of the workings of its empire by the American public.

Killing Hope

Why are we so surprised? Why would one expect otherwise from the country whose Agency (the CIA) trained the jailers, interrogators and torturers of right-wing Latin American fascist states, for example: Pinochet's Chile (1973-1998), the Nicaraguan Contras (1981-1990), the death squads of El Salvador (1980-1994), Guatemala (coup 1953-1954, intervention 1962-1992), Brazil (1961-1964), employed the Nazi experts in this field when their original sources of employment began to close (in 1944-1945, yes even before WWII ended), and scripted such organs of "anti-Communist" control as SAVAK in the Shah's Iran (1953-1979), the Indonesian Army under Suharto (remember the genocides of 1965-1966, and East Timor 1975-2000?), among many other cases: Greece (1947-1950s), South Korea (1945-1953), South Vietnam (Phoenix and related programs 1965-1971), today as a "drug war" in Colombia, etc., etc., heartbreakingly etc. Read Killing Hope, by William Blum.

Proxies can only do so much, and the U.S. has much that it wants done. It is inevitable that the U.S. will have its own Gulag, the only real question being, how big is it? Has it grown significantly in recent times? Why?

Like any Mafia Don, and like the American Public, George W. Bush (and any American President) would want a smoothly operating American Gulag without his fingerprints, a scheme which leaves him "plausible deniability." The Gulag is simply the disposal mechanism of the waste products of the exercise of American power. Since the Prime Directive is to maintain the system, and since the purpose of the system is to pass costs down and benefits up, it will be seen as essential to have an American Gulag -- to wipe the chain free of grit before it loops back up to turn the highest gears in this mechanism of wealth transmission.

Abu Ghraib

The Undiscovered Self by Carl Gustav Jung is a wonderful, short, reasonably accessible tract written in 1957 on the psychology of participating in a mass psychosis. Jung was writing about his observations on the human nature of participating in genocides (after having treated the psychological ailments of victims of such). His basic point was to become self-aware. ALL humans have the impulse to kill or exert unchallenged power over others given the opportunity. Believing that one belongs to a superior race, or religion, or socio-economic strata, or period of history which would immunize one from such impulses is a major psychological error; it is a delusion. We are ALL capable of being the killers and torturers that any human has been at any time in history. Prevention is a matter of realizing this, and being self-aware enough to recognize when we are confronted by an actual opportunity. There are reports of individuals who refused to participate in the Abu Ghraib tortures despite heavy pressure to do so. The psychological strength to do this, to stand alone for justice while enmeshed in a system of injustice, can only be based on the self-awareness Jung described.

Jung was writing about this because he was concerned a "mass psychosis" epidemic could turn a whole society into perpetrators of genocide and war (as with the Germans and their Nazi psychosis, and the purges under Stalin). To avoid such "psychological infection" required a degree of mental "hygiene" that was insufficiently appreciated in his estimation (and history would agree). The "pressure" to go along with the MPs (military police guards) in the Abu Ghraib prison would be an example of such a mass psychosis. In doing so, an individual would be following the consensus, being in the norm, and so the daily routine would be "normal," unremarkable, as one soldier was quoted as stating in media accounts. THAT is the terror of the mass psychosis, that is the "banality of evil" that one reads about in Eichmann and amongst his death camp functionaries and guards. Normality itself is sickened and skewed, so that the individual who adheres to principles OUTSIDE the local norm -- that is to justice and humanity as we would understand them here -- has to be an oddball, a nonconformist, a loner, perhaps even a traitor or "snitch."

The poor clods who were guards at Abu Ghraib were not even psychological adolescents, let alone psychological adults; they were grunt-level young soldiers, unsophisticated, quite unaware of their "selves," or "selfs," and easily carried along on whatever the established "norms" were. They would not be people to buck trends or question the system. The horrendous normality which was established for them would have been the work of "higher ups." This is why the defense of these soldiers, now being court-martialed, is that they were "following orders," even when the "orders" themselves were rather murky and difficult to attribute. They know damn well that they were doing what was wanted, because their whole outlook was to fit in, obey, be part of the team, help the mission, "win the war."

Our top leaders, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the entire cabal, are guilty of the prison abuse in the same way that Hitler and Goebbels were guilty of the abuses perpetrated by Nazism. They set the tone, molded the information and instigated the psychosis within which they wanted their obedient troops to operate. They created a "normality" different from international and humanitarian standards because they saw this as conducive to funneling peoples' thoughts and actions to the benefit of outcomes they wished to achieve.

Not to see this is the essence of the psychosis, whereas seeing it is the essence of the cure, and of continuing public psychological hygiene.

A national revival of interest in Jung's little book might be a very good thing for Americans during these days.

The Decapitation of Nicholas Berg: Real Murder, Fake Video?

Today, the Internet abounds with conspiracy theories about the videotape supposedly showing the decapitation of Nicholas Berg, a young American in Iraq, by Abu Al Zarqawi, an al Qaeda associate. The murder and decapitation of Berg are real, but was the video faked? If so, by whom, and to what end? And let's not forget the murder of Berg. Was he just a scapegoat? Who actually killed him?

The conspiracy theorists have pointed out many details in the video released to the news media (e.g., out of sequence timing indicators, phony-sounding scream, lack of pressurized blood during decapitation, Berg's orange jumpsuit and items in the room supposedly only to be found in the Abu Ghraib jail itself), and have argued that the masked individuals shown could be Americans or mercenaries in the pay of the Americans (i.e., that they could be non-Muslim, as the executioner shown wears a "gold ring," which is proscribed for Muslim men, and others seem to take "Western" stances and wear Western clothes, like baseball caps). The thrust of most conspiracy theories seems to be that the video is a fake to distract public attention from the Abu Ghraib scandal paralyzing the US military and political efforts in Iraq.

While it may be true that this video is a fake, and that even the perpetrators are in doubt, I think the focus here (except by police investigators of Berg's murder) distracts from issues of greater importance. I do not have a favorite conspiracy theory on this video (more below). I imagine in time we will know the facts. What is clear now is that those who benefit from the continuing occupation of Iraq (al Qaeda, mercenaries, pro-occupation Iraqis [Chalabi], US war interests [Bush Administration, corporate camp followers]) will exploit this video, regardless of who actually killed Berg and produced it.

If you think about this, you see how these pro-violence and pro-occupation factions have mutual interests, and inquiring conspiratorial minds could imagine "cooperative" schemes being hatched between them. One such scheme is the suspicion that US authorities allowed Berg to fall into the hands of unfriendly Iraqis (and then possibly foreign Arab extremists), because they imagined that any outrage committed would strengthen their political position. Such a scheme leaves "no fingerprints" of US involvement, yet can be capitalized on by pro-war and pro-occupation factions.

I think it unlikely that Berg would have been done away with overtly by US agents, because official involvement would be impossible to keep secret for long. The worst the U.S. could do to Berg -- assuming it actually wanted to do anything to him in the first place -- would be to ignore him so that he was at risk of falling afoul of the dangerous climate of daily life in Iraq. I've not heard anything that would indicate Berg was of sufficient importance for the US authorities to plot against him. If he really was a problem for them, they would have just dumped him in a plane back to the USA -- it's their war zone, after all.

I think the Berg video was produced as a recruitment device for al Qaeda. The purpose would be to inspire Iraqis to form cells that implemented the assassination of foreigners. Such an outcome would harass the occupation authorities and probably speed up their withdrawal. It would also transmit political power to the producers of the Berg video, as such imitator cells would look to them for guiding inspiration. Small factions seeking great power resort to extreme measures, and rely on controlling a mass psychosis.

One way to gain power -- used by Hitler -- is to instigate a mass psychosis that people are easily susceptible to. Downtrodden, occupied, frightened, humiliated people are a fertile field in which to sow a mass psychosis where they can vent their frustrations and gain a sense of purpose and power -- even if a false sense. The Berg video is a recruitment tape for modern day Thaggis (thugs), as in old India, and Hashshashin (assassins), "one of a secret order of Muslims that at the time of the Crusades terrorized Christians and other enemies by secret murder committed under the influence of hashish" (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1963).

In Iraq today there must be many armed factions, united by their opposition to the US occupation, but at odds over power and influence within Iraq. I surmise the Berg video is most likely to be the work of a splinter faction at the extreme "right wing" of the spectrum within the Iraqi insurgency. This video is their commercial to attract adherents and increase their political power. Of course, this is just a guess.

What we have in Iraq is a dogfight of psychoses -- between the psychosis that led US forces to the Abu Ghraib abuses, and the al Qaeda (attributed) psychosis that could produce the Berg decapitation video -- within the larger situation of a society experiencing both civil disintegration and revolutionary ferment brought on by war, invasion and occupation.

I leave it to you to imagine what type of "political commercials" to the Iraqi (and Arab) public would make the best US response to al Qaeda's Berg video. Clearly, to promote peace in Iraq the occupation must end promptly. This will not end the bloodshed, but it will undoubtedly reduce it. Let's do that.

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Notes and Resources

(all web sites active as of 18 May 2004)

1. Bagram (Afghanistan) http://www.capitolhillblue.com/artman/publish/article_4519.shtml Lisa Hoffman, "Prisoners Also Mistreated in Afghanistan" Scripps Howard News Service, May 9, 2004.

2. Kunduz/Shegerghan (Afghanistan) http://www.democracynow.org/afghanfilm.shtml http://www.sabawoon.com/default.asp

3. Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan) http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/nov2001/afgh-n27.shtml

4. Captain Yee (Naval Consolidated Brig at Charleston, SC) http://www.captainyee.org/92903_lc_wang_statement.pdf

5. William Blum, Killing Hope (US Military and CIA Interventions Since WW II), Common Courage Press, 1995 (new edition 2003) http://www.killinghope.org

6. Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self, 1957.

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Iraq on Swans


Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.

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Published May 24, 2004
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