America’s Mixed Messages: This Time at Sea

America’s Mixed Messages
This Time at Sea

By Karen J. Greenberg

"…Five months later, Congressman José Serrano (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, would suggest just how implausible was Tutwiler’s task of convincing allies and enemies alike of the good intentions of the United States, in Iraq in particular. Though respectful of the idea of public diplomacy, he expressed extreme doubt about the possibility of applying it successfully in that war-torn land then occupied by the U.S. military. As he put it, he was cognizant of just “how difficult it has become for us on the one hand to try to change the image of who we are; and, on the other hand, you know, invade and occupy an Arab country.” Then he added, in a bow of empathy for Tutwiler, “I just wonder how my job would be if I had to tell people that I am a good guy, while, on the other hand, I hit them over the head with a hammer.”

“As if to enshrine Congressman Serrano’s long-gone comments and offer a new lesson in American “public diplomacy,” this program of increasingly murky detentions at sea was dubbed Operation Martillo, or Operation Hammer. Under it, by the fall of 2017, the numbers of detainees had leapt more than 300% to 700 that year. Meanwhile, some of the detained, on release, have reported unjust, often brutal treatment, in both physical and legal terms. Physically, some were shackled for significant periods to the decks of Coast Guard ships, kept there in chains exposed to the wind, rain, and sun, while forced to defecate into buckets.“

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Karen Greenberg