Friday, September 09, 2011

September 11 retrospective: Torture

Much has been written about the Cheney-Bush Administration's torture policy. The 9/11 attacks on the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) became the excuse for the torture policy.

The Obama Administration made the indefensible decision to not prosecute the torture perpetrators, as they were required to do under American and international law. So was the Cheney-Bush Administration, but they were involved at the higest levels in perpetrating the crimes. One result of Obama's failure to prosecute the torture perpetrators has been that polls now show a majority of Americans approving of torture.

President Obama allegedly ended torture. There have been reports under this Administration of American officials participating in torture. We know that Bradley Mannng was kept in conditions amounting to torture, and of a serious kind (prolonged extreme isolation, humiliation by nudity). But his conditions were improved after a reporter confronted Obama with a question about Manning, although Obama's immediate response was to defend the way he had been treated. This is the closest evidence of which I'm aware that Obama may have specifically approved of torture, though it's possible he wasn't fully aware of how Manning was being tortured.

Obama has kept the Guantánamo station of what Al Gore memorably called the Bush Gulag open. He has accepted the lawless policy of indefinite detention without trial or charges. He has kept "black site" secret prisons open. Those are all in themselves conditions that virtually guarantee that torture will occur. I would be astonished if it's not going on, even though Obama doesn't obscenely celebrate torture the way Dick Cheney and virtually the entire Republican Party do.

But no matter how passionately the Republican Party celebrates it or how large a majority of Americans tell pollsters they support it, it's wrong and is destructive of the rule of law in a basic way that is only possibly matched by war itself. Jimmy Carter was on the mark in his 2005 book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis:

Aside from the humanitarian aspects, it is well known that, under excruciating torture, a prisoner will admit almost any suggested crime. Such confessions are, of course, not admissible in trials in civilized nations. The primary goal of torture of the threat of torture is not to obtain convictions for crimes, but to engender and maintain fear. Some of our leaders have found that it is easy to forgo human rights for those who are considered to be subhuman, or "enemy combatants." [my emphasis]
The torture issue isn't going away.

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