Friday, October 26, 2007

Giuliani and torture

I don't want to by Pollyannish about the American record on torture. Torture was a standard feature of slavery. Torture has been used and tolerated in the prison system at various times. Torture by American troops in the Vietnam War was in practice tolerated in places; it was widespread, actually. And through the notorious School for the Americas, American trainers provided police and soldiers from Latin American countries in torture techniques.

The most immediately relevant instance to our current situation was the practice lynching in the segregated South. Racial-based lynching was not limited to the former Confederacy; there was an infamous public lynching in San Jose in 1933. It was a mob action and none of the murderous were tried for the crime. California's Republican Gov. "Sunny Jim" Rolph pledged to pardon anyone convicted of the lynch-murder, declaring, "While the law should have been permitted to take its course, the people by their action have given notice to the entire world that in California kidnapping will not be tolerated."

But in the Deep South, lynching was a long-standing practice, worse at some times than at others. But even though it was illegal, it was officially tolerated. Very often, local officials and law enforcement were very much involved in the practice both before and after the fact. But lynching wasn't about executing black victims solemnly. It was solemn at all. The victims were typically tortured, often severely, before being murdered. Torture or mutilation (i.e., castration) was also a common practice under "lynch law".

What's mortifying about the politics of torture in the US today is that the Republican Party has embraced the practiced and has sought to legalize it. We'd have to say they've partially succeeded in doing so. And now we have Benito Giuliani, one of the leading candidates for President and one of the most highly regarded public figures in the country, blatantly adopted the partial-drowning torture known as water-boarding: When Rudy goes waterboarding by Joe Conason Salon 10/26/07; I can't believe it's not torture! by Joan Walsh Salon 10/26/07; Pop Torture by Digby, Hullabaloo blog 10/25/07. (I'm not positive that some of her graphics get the history precisely right, e.g., the Spanish Inquisition wasn't precisely demanding that people renounce the Christian faith.)

But, as Jimmy Carter reminds us, is not about interrogation technique. It's a state terror technique. That's what it is, that's how it functions.

Having torture officially endorsed by the US government even to the extent that Cheney and Bush have done it has put us over an important red line of social restraint. This is not a "slippery slope" argument. If we need a geological analogy, a broken dike would be a better one. It's not a question of the dike having been breached. It's a question of how far the water spreads and how fast.

As Digby notes in the post linked above, she talks about an argument posed in the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode from this week:

But the show featured something I thought was unique and important: it drew a direct parallel between torturing terrorism suspects and torturing criminal suspects, something I have blogged about many times but which I've rarely seen argued by others.

I've always felt that logic dictates that if you think it's ok to torture terrorism suspects, even if only in a "ticking time bomb" situation, you cannot believe it wouldn't be right to torture a criminal suspect in similar situations. In this show, one of the characters bluntly says that he affirmatively believes in torture because when he was a cop he broke the arm of a suspect in three places to get him to reveal where a kidnapped child was being held and ended up saving her. He is disgusted by the fact that the perpetrator could not be tried because of what he'd done.
We know where this leads when the water (or water-boarding) spreads far enough. And we don't have to look to any foreign examples to see it, either. Here's an account of what the Benito Giuliani vision of the future looks like, from Mississippi: The Closed Society (1966 edition) by James Silver:

A classic example of lynching as a means of social control was reported by the Jackson Daily News in December, 1928. Before escaping from the state penitentiary at Parchman, a Negro lifer named Charley Sheppard murdered the prison carpenter and kidnaped [sic] his 18-year-old daughter, whom he took on a wild 24-hour flight through the swamps. He allegedly raped the girl. Several thousand men, including units of the

National Guard, aided by bloodhounds, failed to catch Sheppard, who finally turned himself in to a woman plantation owner. A mob, skillfully and purposely directed, then seized him. After being displayed in front of a store, Sheppard was taken on a seven-hour tour of the main roads, the cross roads, and the back roads. Several prison camps were visited. As word of the affair spread through the Delta some 3000 cars and 6000 whites, according to the reporter, converged on the scene of the revelry.

Here, with the same methodical precision which had marked all their actions, mob leaders unloaded dried wood for the cremation, built their pyre, bound and strapped the negro and poured upon him gasoline which had been carried along for the occasion.

Before the match was touched to him Sheppard's mouth and nose were partly filled with mud to prevent him from inhaling gas fumes which might cause his instant death.
As the fire blazed up, "a wild-eyed member of the mob, intent on further torture, leaped atop the pile of wood, straddled the negro's body and cut his ears off with a pocket knife." Like a knock-out in the third round, the sacrifice itself took only a few minutes but not before the shrieks of the victim had been mingled with the screams of a hundred female spectators. Sheppard "twisted and rolled in the flames, and finally rolled off the pile of flaming stavewood." He was immediately seized and thrown back, and more gasoline was applied. The orgy finished, a leg bone and the skull were claimed as souvenirs. Later the ears were exhibited at a filling station. The coroner's verdict: "Death from causes unknown."
Let's be clear: whatever crimes the victim may have committed, this was not about law enforcement. It's probably even misleading to call it "social control", as Silver does.

It can't happen here? It has happened here. And today's neosegregationist Republican Party is taking us back in that direction and wants to continue doing so. No kidding.

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