One big happy family: Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Lynndie England and SERE

“It’s like a big family,” said commander Colonel Mike Bumgarner to a group of officials touring Guantanamo back in 2005, when Jane Mayer wrote about it for the New Yorker.

Now Mayer has a new book out that connects some more dots. Apparently psychologists attached to a military torture training program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), which has had some bad press over the years, were moved to Guantanamo and then to Iraq. The new job description for military shrinks was not teaching our military how to resist torture themselves, but how to torture prisoners more effectively. Oh ho! So Lynndie England didn’t think of that stuff all by herself.

And yes, we torture our own soldiers. When they say they don’t do anything to the prisoners at Guantanamo that they don’t do to our own people, they’re absolutely correct. That’s what SERE is all about. One commenter says after he got through the SERE training he “vowed to never be captured alive.” And we’re supposed to be the good guys.

Years ago there was a PBS special called I, Claudius, a historical series set in ancient Rome. In one episode, Caligula asks Claudius, played by Derek Jacobi, whether he might be in fact insane. Jacobi, who has a heavy stutter in this series, had remained unscathed as Caligula, believing himself to be a god, murdered one political rival after another, including his sister who is pregnant with his unborn heir. Jacobi, stuttering magnificently through the scene manages to blurt out the reply, “You set the standard of sanity for the entire empire.”

Back when Lynndie England and the others were photographed at Abu Ghraib, they were called “bad apples.” Now we find out someone else in authority has indeed been setting the standard of sanity for American core values. The whole bushel basket is rotten. England was just the most visible apple.

Now tell me what happens to the good apples when there is a preponderance of rotten ones.

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