Sunday, February 07, 2010

Normalizing torture has consequences

Consequences like this: U.S. soldier 'waterboarded his own daughter, 4, because she couldn't recite alphabet' Daily Mail 02/07/10.

It would be interesting to know if this soldier had taken part in interrogations involving torture.

I wouldn't want to jump to conclusions that child abuse is going to become more common in the US because the government has been officially torturing people. This one case certainly doesn't constitute evidence in itself for such a conclusion.

But it's clear that for the Republican Party, torture is now almost explicitly defended as a virtuous thing. In a Republican sub-culture that, as Max Blumenthal has described at some length in Republican Gomorrah (2009), celebrates physical beatings for children and pets, that official level of approval validates and strengthens authoritarian attitudes toward employing violence and cruelty against the vulnerable. I haven't seen anyone yet systematically trace the current Republican embrace of torture to the lynch-law in the segregated South on not-so-distant decades ago. But I'm sure there are important connections.

Sarah Palin, current darling of the Christian Right, alluded in a somewhat oblique way to the standard Republican criticism that the Obama administration should have treated the suspect in the inept and failed attempted terrorist attack over Chicago as an "enemy combatant", and should have tortured him and not recognized any of his Constitutional rights:

The events surround the Christmas Day plot reflect the kind of thinking that led to September 11. That trag-, th-, th-, th-, the threat then, as the USS Cole was attacked, as our embassies were attacked, it was treated like an international crime spree, not like an act of war.

We're seeing that mindset again settle into Washington. That scares me for my children, for your children. Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at great risk.

Because that's not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we're at war, and to win that war we need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.
Child abuse was certainly a problem before the Cheney-Bush torture program was adopted. And certainly I wouldn't want to see child abusers escape legal consequences for their acts by pleading that Dick Cheney and his torture program made them do it.

But the Republican endorsement and passionate support of torture does validate the Christian Right's authoritarian reverence for the use of violence against the weak and the helpless. And, yes, even individually tough prisoners are in a vulnerable position. The Obama administration's refusal to prosecute torture perpetrators only gives more social validation to the same attitude.

And one of the practical consequences of the torture program is that it required hundreds if not thousands of people to take part in systematic infliction of sadistic cruelty. How do those torturers compartmentalize those impulses when they get back into civilian society? Some of them will wind up turning down self-destructive practices. Others will find wind to act out their impulses and utilize the skills they developed in the torture program.

I wish our torture-supporting Republicans had thought through some of this while they were making torture one of their Party's core values.

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