Monday, June 01, 2009

Ending torture: Torture Awareness Month

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has designated June 2009 as their Torture Awareness Month:

June 26th is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. A few years ago, religious and human rights organizations in the United States declared the month of June to be Torture Awareness Month as a way to provide greater visibility to this issue and provide an opportunity for coordinated actions across the country.
Since it's a live issue in American politics in any case, I'm planning to post about the issue regularly this month.

Torture is illegal.
Torture destroys the rule of law.
Torture perpetrators have to be prosecuted.
Torture functions in practice as an instrument of state terror.

Those are four realities about the practice of torture that should be front and center in the discussions of torture now going on the United States. The very fact that torture is up as a topic of discussion at all as a tool of American policy is itself a sign of rot in our political culture.

The Martyrdom of St. Hippolytus by Dieric Bouts (1475)

And the factual suppression of these elements in those discussions as they have taken place is an example of "repressive tolerance" in operation. The focus is elsewhere because of three major sets of competing interests at work.

The Republican Party is committed now to the practice of torture and to the Cheney dogma of the Unitary Executive, which holds that the President is inherently free to violate the law and even the Constitution, though most are not ready to explicitly defend the latter. And in reality they only apply the latter to Republican Presidents. But to maintain this authoritarian vision as a viable option for the next Republican Presidency, they desperately need to avoid having the higher-level torture perpetrators from the Cheney-Bush administration prosecuted. The process would undermine their case for torture and for the Unitary (Republican) Executive notion. It would also be politically devastating. And some individuals like Dick Cheney have a personal stake in not being prosecuted. Especially since some people actually died under the Cheney-Bush torture program, some officials could be charged with depraved indifference or other counts in those deaths.

The Democratic Party establishment would like the issue to go away. Unlike the Republicans, they also want the practice of torture to go away. The Party leadership just has too many hacks like Senate Majority Leader "Give-'Em-Whine-Harry" Reid who suffering from some combination of not much caring whether the laws against torture are enforced and being terrified of opposing the Republicans on a "national security" issue. The Party of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson is being crippled on this issue by poor leaders like Reid. Even thought with few exceptions, the most active opponents of torture are Democrats and the Democratic base is overwhelmingly in favor of prosecuting torture perpetrators.

Then there's our corporate media, our sad, broken national press corps who largely understand themselves as infotainers though they insist on calling themselves "journalists" because that's who they play on TV. The overpaid and undercompetent group that are mostly who we see on TV as the Pod Pundits who really do influence the framing and prioritization of issues a great deal are also driven by Groupthink. And in developing their Groupthink conventional wisdom on issues, they generally apply the news judgment and analytical ability that one would expect among the participants in a fraternity keg party at around 2:00AM.

These interests have largely converged to minimize to keep the legal issues out of the center of the discussion. The Reps don't want there to be any legal issue at all. The Dems don't want the legal issue to be prominent, because it would put pressure on their leaders to insist on enforcing the law and emphasize how feckless they were as an opposition Party in failing to raise a stink about the torture program. And our sad excuse for a press corps seem incapable of understanding that there is a legal issue, they try to cram all these issues into "process" questions where the story is this side arguing with that side and they do stenography of what each side is saying and keep score as to which side seems to be ahead, and the celebrity press is so committed to the values of the Beltway Village that the notion of actually prosecuting their pals from the Cheney-Bush administration seems unthinkable to them. And, like we saw during the Scooter Libby trial, trials over the torture program would also expose the failures and even collusion of the corporate press with the torture program, though I would be surprised if any of the press were legally culpable in any of it.

I'm going to do a series of posts on the more general background issues, including several from a series of related articles in the German magazine Kursbuch, a publication of Die Zeit company, whose flagship is a respected weekly newspaper of that name. I discussed one of them previously in The purpose of torture 05/20/09.

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