With Torture Like This, Who Needs Health Care?

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

When I read that a Pentagon spokesman didn't want to release Guantanamo Bay inmates without getting "credible assurances that they will be treated humanely" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Then I thought about SICKO. I love Michael Moore. And I loved SICKO. Like no other mainstream film, it exposes the sick state of American medicine, diseased and deformed beyond recognition by the invasion of corporate parasites. A man with cancer dies because his insurance company denies him the conventional therapy of bone marrow transplants, which it deems experimental; a mother loses her infant febrile daughter when their HMO insists she be taken to a distant ER for treatment. 9/11 rescue workers cannot afford medicines and treatments to alleviate debilitating conditions resulting from ground-zero. Moore shows us universal health care in Britain, France, and Canada. I'm touched, outraged -- and grateful to Moore for rallying the troops to march for universal health care for all, here in the wealthiest nation on earth.

As usual, Moore's new film has provoked criticism, accusations of lies or at least omitting and distorting the facts. So he doesn't show us the lines that our northern neighbors must sometimes wait on but he gives us the big picture of universal healthcare. So he romanticizes the European welfare state, overlooks the absence of British dental care, but it allows him to show us the ultra greed and ruthlessness of our flawed system. I'm used to defending Michael Moore against criticisms. He is not dishonest. He does not lie. Sometimes he omits. But just to make the bigger point to an ADD American public used to sound bites and MTV hype. And besides, the overall message is a truthful one. These systems are not perfect, but they are still much better than our own health care system.

So it's really surprising that out of all these critical reviews, I couldn't find one that addressed the biggest and most problematic omission. Through his representation of Guantanamo Bay, Moore does not lie, he lets liars lie, and asks us to accept their word as truth. GTMO, Moore says, is the "one place on American soil that had free universal health care." A montage of politicians including Rumsfeld and Frist testify to the high-level health care, that high-level terrorists receive at GITMO. And thus with the rescue workers in tow, Moore sails to Guantamano, to get the quality government health care denied them and bestowed on "evil-doers."

I suspect Moore means to mock the sophomoric language and mentality of the Bush administration. Moore's tongue is in his cheek and his heart is in the right place. Guantanamo is a convenient and ironic transition to get Moore and the 9/11 workers to the island of Cuba. Yet Moore omits the fact that the men at Guantanamo are not all terrorists, nor are they all the recipients of the quality health care that should be going to us. The great majority of the men at GITMO were in the wrong place at the wrong time or had the wrong beard at the wrong time. Far from receiving stellar medical care, inmates have been denied treatment, until they "cooperate." They've been physically and psychologically tortured, often with participation by physicians and other medical professionals. Hunger-strikers protesting against their treatment have been force fed though large tubes inserted down their nose and throat. "Medical ethics" have been broken at Guantanamo, US medical organizations, like the American Psychiatric Association, have asserted.

I'm sure that Moore knows all this. In fact, he acknowledged in an interview with Amy Goodman that the force feeding of prisoners is called "nutrition counseling." Yet the mainstream audience he is trying to reach probably doesn't. And they won't, after seeing the movie. The man sitting next to me in the theater, shook his head in disbelief during the Guantanamo scene, not because the 9/11 workers are treated worse than the U.S. claims to treat terrorists who are mostly innocent people, whom we torture. He was shaking his head with outrage. America's enemies are getting the care that America's heroes deserve. He didn't see that Moore's tongue was in his cheek, but only that he went to Guantanamo and reported no problems for the "evil doers," only for Americans.

When I bring the issue up with my "liberal" blog-reading progressive friends, they defend Moore's treatment. Moore had no choice. The contrast between 9/11 heroes and 9/11 villains was irresistible -- true or not. Okay, he omitted certain things, but it was worth it: American's minds were being changed about universal health care. We liberals will leave the theaters with our concern for human rights, legal rights, and torture victims in tact, but newly energized to wage the winnable war for universal health care. It's a win/win situation.

But it's not a win/win situation. Moore's message is not benign. Those who go into the theater ignorant or incredulous to the reality of Guantanamo Bay will perhaps leave the theater even more resistant to claims of torture. Because now they can say "tortured? They get better treatment than we do." And "innocent? Even that crazy left Wing Michael Moore says they're evil doers."

Ironically, the only ones registering Moore's depiction of Guantanamo Bay come from the right. They use the film to discredit Moore as inconsistent and to defend the treatment of Guantanamo. One conservative blogger writes

Isn't Moore one of those liberal morons that have been so up-in-arms about the horrible treatment -- I seem to recall the word "torture" used a few times -- the American military has bestowed on the prisoners of Club Gitmo? So horrible, in fact, that he's taking these 9/11 heroes there to hopefully partake in the prisoners' torturous handling, including "free teeth cleaning, eye care and nutrition counseling."

An article called "America Should be Proud to Expand Guantanamo" argues

Guantanamo's conditions are beyond humane. Detainees enjoy soccer and volleyball, pray to Mecca five times daily, and eat Allah-ready meals, adding 10 pounds to the typical combatant's physique. They also receive medical care that even Bush hater Michael Moore praises in his new movie, SiCKO.

Lew Waters who describes himself as a "your every day average blue collar conservative Viet Nam Veteran" on his blog called "Right in a Left World" left this comment on the the "

Funny thing from Moore in his defense of this garbage. He said, "he was just trying to visit the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention camp after learning that suspected al-Qaeda detainees had access to better health care than many Americans."I thought all we did to detainees in Guantanamo was abuse, torture and mistreat them?

As for us enlightened liberals? The only thing I could find were some comments left on blogs and a cartoon by Matt Bors I came across on Alternet. We, the ones who Moore doesn't have to worry about, don't seem to be as informed and angry as we should be. The progressive choir to whom Moore shouldn't have to preach is not as converted as we claim.