by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Years ago I did an article about how the federal government was using torture to extract information from potential terrorists. I noted in that article that, as a Christian, I did not believe torturing people, no matter how bad they were, was something we should be doing. If I recall correctly, I asked in that article if Jesus Christ would endorse torture. It was a rhetorical question, as, obviously, He would not.
The responses I got back were surprising. They came from Christians who seemed to feel that torturing terrorists was okay because they were, after all, terrorists. My initial reaction to this was–if the terrorists torture people and then we end up doing the same thing–are we any better than they are? One Christian lady was able to see it my way and admit that torture was wrong. Others remained adamant that torture was a great way to get information out of terrorists and so it was okay.
My thought was–if Christians feel this way, what does that say about where this country is really at? If you don’t like the answer to that question, neither do I. But, in doing a little homework, I found that torture in this country is hardly a new thing.
Years ago I read a book by Mark E. Neely Jr called The Fate of Liberty. I’ve mentioned it before, but not recently. It was about civil liberties under the Lincoln administration (or the lack thereof). Pages 109-112 went into a bit of detail about torture as practiced in the Lincoln administration. Neely noted that: “The steady decline in the status of Southern noncombatants in the military thinking of the North might lead one to suspect that the likeliest torture victims were the detested Southern guerillas or scouts. In fact the victims were not Southerners at all. They were Northerners suspected of deserting from the United States Army.” So Neely has to admit that the North tortured possible deserters from her armies. Neely observed, on page 112 that: “As military authority was extended to cover more and more kinds of cases, torture might have spread also. And the history of the war would have become darker yet.”
And the war did become darker yet, thanks to Edwin Stanton, the War Department, and Stanton’s secret police, run by his pet stooge Lafayette Baker. Most Northern folks would prefer not to hear about all this. They want to cling to the fairy tale that the North fought a noble, pure as the driven snow, war to free the slaves in the Southern states. If you ever ask them why they were not concerned with freeing the slaves in those slave states that had to remain in the Union, all you get is blank stares back. They have no clue what you are talking about. Let us make note here that the “history” they are taught in public schools does not tell them about any of this.
But, for all of that, torture was practiced in the North and it was particularly notable in the case of the alleged Lincoln conspirators. Steven Hager, in his enlightening articles on the Lincoln assassination conspiracy on https://stevenhager.net has stated: “But similar techniques (of torture) were employed at the end of the Civil War, and employed to secure the cover-up of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, whose murder was engineered by the leaders of his own party, along with funding and support from a secret entity in New York. Although dozens of people aided and abetted Booth (and over a thousand immediately arrested and incarcerated for a month) the unlucky six who would soon be put on trial for their lives received very special treatment different from all the others.”
Hager said: “Instead of a prison cell, they were moved to iron-clad ships located far away from listening ears, so nothing could be spoken from a prison window. Heavy canvas and leather hoods with padding over eye and ear sockets were chained permanently over their heads, and only removed during the trial when inside the court room. Their hands were locked in cuffs that prevented independent motion. They remained in isolation for weeks prior to the trial, and could not see or hear anything, and had only a flap revealing a small hole for breathing and feeding, a flap that could be kept sealed.” It would seem that Stanton’s War Department was not buying into any of this “innocent until proven guilty” claptrap!
With this kind of “special treatment” is it any wonder that some of the six started to slip mentally and emotionally, with those hoods on in 90 degree heat? But, then, that was probably part of the game. Hager noted that “All interrogations were kept secret, but it’s evident the interrogations were designed to shape later testimony favorable to the government’s case. The purpose of this extreme inhumane treatment was to guarantee no prisoner revealed sensitive information, while rendering them helpless to marshal a complete defense. The initial confession given by George Atzerodt was destroyed and not allowed into evidence, and would not be located for 117 years.” After all that time, a copy of it was located, and that is on the internet now. A little late to do George any good. In it he confessed to being part of a plan to kidnap Lincoln. He never confessed to a murder plot.
We have been duly informed that there were three murder plots that night, one to kill Andrew Johnson, one to kill Grant, and one to kill Stanton. Hager stated that these “…were invented by Edwin Stanton to shield himself, as he was an alleged target of his own fictional assassination plot…But if you follow these trails up the chain of command, you’ll locate the true perpetrators of Lincoln’s murder…Because the people stage-managing the sham trial of the patsies are always the same ones who engineered the crime in the first place.”
It’s interesting that, in his original confession Atzerodt listed around a dozen extra names of people in the kidnapping conspiracy–and these good folks were never charged with anything or investigated. Makes you wonder who they really were. Atzerodt eventually changed his story, but, then, that was after wearing that canvas and leather hood 24 hours a day, which had to impair his mental capacity. Hager restated that: “This torture device, which he was forced to endure for weeks until hanged, had been invented to keep him from revealing information to anyone while the government fabricated a case with paid perjuries.”
Atzerodt said Booth had been told that “the New York crowd who’d been assisting the kidnap plot had decided to put a hit on Lincoln. Booth accepted their mission.” Makes you wonder who this New York crowd was, doesn’t it?