The discourse of aberration runs through the American media's descriptions of just about everything that goes awry and manages to make it into the papers or onto the airwaves.
If Enron tanks due to rampant corruption, it's an aberration within benevolent corporate capitalism.
If hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed in America, even they are aberrations, however numerous they may be.
And as we all know, if we tortured some people in Iraq, that is a mere aberration within benevolent imperialism.
When Veronica de Negri first saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, she happened to be writing her testimony for the Chilean commission investigating human rights abuses during the regime of Augusto Pinochet.
"That kind of abuse was what I lived in Chile under Pinochet," says de Negri, who came to the United States twenty-seven years ago. Even the vocabulary carried an echo. "They told us, too, they were trying to soften us up."
De Negri was detained in 1976. "I was beaten up. I had electroshock," she says. "I was raped not just by the torturers but with a mouse. It's very repulsive. Imagination cannot reach the reality."
She recognizes that "the torturers in my case were Chilean," but she blames Washington for helping to overthrow Salvador Allende in 1973, for supporting Pinochet, and for training Chilean torturers. De Negri left Chile with her family in 1977, but her son Rodrigo Rojas went back almost a decade later. "He was participating in a national strike on July 2, 1986, when he was arrested, badly beaten, and set on fire and burned alive by Pinochet's forces," she says.
Americans are "very naïve," she says. "They don't want to see" the involvement of the United States in torture over the years. The Abu Ghraib scandal "is nothing new," she says. "This has been happening behind your eyes for many years."
The United States likes to see itself with a halo on its head, and whenever a revelation like Abu Ghraib or My Lai surfaces, U.S. citizens tend to shrug it off as an anomaly. When you look at the last fifty years of U.S. history, it is anything but.
From Greece to Iran to Indonesia to Vietnam and throughout Latin America, the U.S. government has been complicit in the torture or murder of hundreds of thousands of people.
"If we had photographs of what our so-called allies in Honduras and El Salvador and Chile were doing, based on training they had received from us in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the American public would have been even more horrified," says Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. This was torture by proxy, but it was at the direction of Washington. "The only difference between this kind of conduct now and in the past is that there wasn't somebody with a digital camera back then keeping track of what was going on," says Kornbluh.
A. J. Langguth was "stunned and repulsed" by the pictures of the abuse at Abu Ghraib. "But it wasn't a big surprise to me," he says. Langguth is the author of Hidden Terrors, which chronicles the U.S. involvement in torture in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1960s and early 1970s. The book focuses on Dan Mitrione, the U.S. officer who professionalized the work of the torturers and ultimately was captured and executed by the Tupamaros in Uruguay.
"I first heard about our policies in torture when I was in Brazil in the '70s," Langguth is the author of Hidden Terrors, which chronicles the U.S. involvement in torture in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1960s and early 1970s. The book focuses on Dan Mitrione, the U.S. officer who professionalized the work of the torturers and ultimately was captured and executed by the Tupamaros in Uruguay.