On Torture and American Values
By David Peterson at Jan 28, 2006
Okay. Everybody listen up. Now. Repeat after your
Commander-in-Chief, and be sure to get it right.
"[T]his government does not torture people. You
know, we stick to U.S. law and our international
obligations." "The policy of the United States is not to torture. The President has not authorized it. He will not authorize it." "I will reiterate to you once again that we do not torture. We want to make sure that we keep this country safe." "[L]et's back up and be very clear. You've heard Dana Perino say it today. You heard the president say it numerous times -- the United States does not torture." "We do not torture. And the fact is no matter how we treat detainees, Al Qaeda, when they capture our soldiers in uniform, will still torture and behead them. How we treat detainees is not going to affect that."
So: George Bush doesn't do torture. His Press Secretary Dana Perino doesn't, either. Nor does Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend. In fact, nobody employed by or acting on behalf of the U.S. Government does torture. And this extends up-and-down the chain-of-command. Including all the way to the corporate mercenaries like Blackwater, Kellogg-Brown and Root, Military Professional Resources Incorporated, and the rest of them. No one ever did torture. No one ever will do torture. No one ever even heard of torture. Like wars of aggression, terrorism, rape and plunder, torture is something that other states and non-state actors do. Official enemies in particular. By definition, they do torture. (Also plunder and pillage. Commit systematic rape. Terrorism. Build weapons of mass destruction. Wage wars of aggression. Crimes against humanity. Genocide.)
At what point does the laughability of the Washington regime -- over and above its sheer criminality -- and of every article of faith that sustains it burst through the defenses of the American Mind, like the proverbial light bulb illuminating its otherwise darkened recesses?
In its lead editorial today, Sunday, October 7, after recounting its report from four days ago showing that, all of their denials to the contrary, the Washington regime never once stopped endorsing the "harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency" ("Secret US Endorsement of Severe Interrogations," Scott Shane et al., October 4), the New York Times asked: "Is this really who we are?"
A good question.
Still. Another question comes to mind: How to go about answering the first question? The Times's opening paragraph hardly inspires confidence ("On Torture and American Values," October 7):
Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.
Inside the really reality-based community -- the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and who knows how many others -- The Times's opening paragraph must come as quite a disappointment. For example, when the U.S. Senate finally ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1994, some ten years after the Convention was first negotiated, the regime then occupying the White House wrote to the United Nations' Secretary-General, informing him that "nothing in this Convention requires or authorizes legislation, or other action, by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States" (June 3, 1994) -- a signing statement if ever there were one, unambiguously declaring that the U.S. Government had rejected both the letter and the spirit of the Convention, thereby tearing the Convention to shreds.
But this was inside the really reality-based community, don't forget. Which is light-years from the once-upon-a-time community. The Washington-regime community. And assorted other communities committed to the counterfactual.
"Secret US Endorsement of Severe Interrogations," Scott Shane et al., New York Times, October 4, 2007 (as posted to Truthout)
"Press Briefing by Dana Perino," White House Office of the Press Secretary, October 4, 2007
"President Bush Discusses the Economy and Protecting Americans from Terrorism," White House Office of the Press Secretary, October 5, 2007
"US does not use torture: Bush," Agence France Presse, October 5, 2007
"Bush defends treatment of terrorism suspects, says US 'does not torture'," Jennifer Loven, Associated Press, October 5, 2007
"Of freedom and fascism in America," John Lyons, The Australian, October 5, 2007
"Gonzales 'approved' US torture memo," Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Ward, Financial Times, October 5, 2007
"Bush aide has denial down pat," Sheldon Alberts, National Post, October 5, 2007
"Debate Erupts On Techniques Used by C.I.A.," David Johnson and Scott Shane, New York Times - IHT, October 5, 2007
"Congress Seeks Secret Memos On Interrogation," Dan Eggen and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, October 5, 2007
"Bush Defends Interrogations, Saying Methods Aren't Torture," Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, October 6, 2007
"Bush Defends Interrogations," Michael Abramowitz and Joby Warrick, Washington Post, October 6, 2007
"Bush denies approving torture," Jon Ward, Washington Times, October 6, 2007
"On Torture and American Values," Editorial, New York Times, October 7, 2007
"Bush's torturers follow where the Nazis led," Andrew Sullivan, The Times, October 7, 2007
"More Torture Memos," Editorial, Washington Post, October 7, 2007
"The 'Good Germans' Among Us," Frank Rich, New York Times - IHT, October 14, 2007
"Do We Already Have Our Pentagon Papers?" Tom Engelhardt, October 19, 2007
Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: Second report, Dick Marty et al., Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Council of Europe, June 7, 2007
"Cold War II," Noam Chomsky, Z Magazine, October, 2007
"Shifting Targets: The Administration's plan for Iran," Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, October 8, 2007
"'...interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet...'," ZNet, May 19, 2005
"On Torture and American Values," ZNet, October 7, 2007
Update (October 13): The following gem comes to us from The Daily Show's host Jon Stewart and its senior correspondent, John Oliver, via the labors of Eileen Sutton, whose regular Kafka Files I see have now expanded at least as far as No. 854 -- and counting. The video link is courtesy of The Daily Show, of course. But the transcript is courtesy the Kafka Files. -- Don't miss them. (Though you'll have to wait through a thirty-second advertisement, what follows it is wonderful.) (Also compare the Commander-in-Chief's July 20, 2007 "Executive Order: Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.")
Jon Stewart: How is fake drowning, sleep deprivation, why isn't that torture?
John Oliver: That is not torture.
Jon Stewart: Why?
John Oliver: Because we don't torture.
Jon Stewart: Meaning we don't do those things.
John Oliver: No, meaning if we do do those things, they must not be torture.
Jon Stewart: That's insane.
John Oliver: Well, isn't it great that you can live in a country where you can say things like that. That's really something. That's a great day for America!
Jon Stewart: But John, if it's not torture, what is it?
John Oliver: Enhanced interrogation.
Jon Stewart: So the “prisoners” --
John Oliver: Wait, Jon, the “detainees.”
Jon Stewart: Why aren't they “prisoners”?
John Oliver: You can't torture “prisoners.” That's in the Geneva Convention.
Jon Stewart: But a “detainee”--
John Oliver: That you can do.
Jon Stewart: So waterboarding a “prisoner” --
John Oliver: Torture.
Jon Stewart: But waterboarding a “detainee” --
John Oliver: That's interrogation.
Jon Stewart: So words, in and of themselves, have no value.
John Oliver: Wow, Jon, I'd have thought you'd at least support our words. Our brave fighting words, who've been serving this country since the war on terror began. Many of them making the ultimate sacrifice, losing their definitions. Words like torture, victory, surge, mission, accomplished…once filled with purpose, now signifying nothing. I know one little word, named progress. Poor bastard. Before the war he meant “forward momentum in large increments.” Now, he doesn't know which way he's going. Poor little noun! And all the while, words like “Jon” and “Stewart” sit at home doing nothing. You know what Jon? That's why I wear this “dictionary” pin. It's my way of paying tribute to all the words we've lost.
Jon Stewart: I don't have a dictionary pin…I didn't know….
John Oliver: (scoffing) You didn't know, you didn't realize. Fine. Once again, we're lucky that you live in a country where you're free not to wear a dictionary lapel pin, you're free to do that, free not to wear it, thus expressing your hatred of America and actively supporting the terrorists. (to the audience) Yes, give Jon Stewart a round of applause for his hard work.
Jon Stewart: Wait, John. What you just said to me is cruel, inane, and in fact childish.
John Oliver: No, it couldn't have been. All three of those words have been called up and are currently serving at the pleasure of the president.
Update (October 14): For a nice commentary published in one of the local Chicago-area newspapers this Sunday:
"Speaking the sad truth," Marlene Lang, Daily Southtown, October 14, 2007
The columnist makes much of a book that I myself have never seen: M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie: Toward a Psychology of Evil (Simon and Schuster, 1992(?)).
But I certainly can point you to annother recent study of the American government's heavy reliance on torture historically -- and let's not kid ourselves about it, either:
A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Alfred W. McCoy (Metropolitan Books, 2006)
Also to a study scheduled for publication later this year, which I myself haven't seen, though it comes highly recommended by a friend who has:
Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali (Princeton University Press, 2007 [Forthcoming])
As well as direct you to an outstanding website where these topics are discussed with the gravity they deserve -- and in particular, the role of medical and mental-health professionals in the system of coercion as linked to the American state's grand imperial ambitions:
Psyche, Science, and Society (Stephen Soldz)
Soldz's website truly is a spectacular resource. -- Don't miss it.
American history is rich in the means of violence and coercion. To resort to the hackneyed but nonetheless true expression: Coercion and violence are as American as apple pie. Even the most extreme forms. Beyond your wildest imagination.
So that when former President Jimmy Carter this past week, during his October 10 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, elaborated on the proposition that "our country, for the first time in [Carter's] lifetime, has abandoned the basic principles of human rights," this, too, must be regarded as a denial of the truth.
No wonder Carter's words were regarded as so courageous in so many otherwise well-meaning circles.
These days, cowardice abounds. That -- and career-advancement within the institutions of violence and coercion.
Just like in Eichmann's time.
Excerpted from: Wolf Blitzer Interviews Jimmy Carter, The Situation Room, CNN, 7:00 PM EST, October 10, 2007.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In the book -- the new book, "Beyond the White House," you write this on page 252: "We had assumed in earlier years that our commitments and activities in support of human rights were in harmony with those of our government. And we were able to cooperate with officials in Washington. That is no longer a dependable premise." That sounds like a swipe at President Bush.
JIMMY CARTER: Well, in a way -- you know, I think the entirety (ph) of global human rights community, with its multiple facets, including those deep inside Pakistan and Israel, B'Tselem and Al-Haq, both would -- all would agree with the fact that our country, for the first time in my lifetime, has abandoned the basic principles of human rights. We have said that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo. And we have said that we can torture prisoners, deprive them of an accusation of the crimes to which they accuse.
BLITZER: President Bush said as recently as this week the United States does not torture detainees.
CARTER: That's not an accurate statement. If you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored, certainly in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say, we don't violate them. And we can -- you can make your own definition of torture and say we don't violate it.
BLITZER: But by your definition, you believe the United States, under this administration, has used torture.
CARTER: I don't think it, I know it, certainly.
BLITZER: So is the president lying?
CARTER: The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes.
BLITZER: But that raises a really important question. Those who are engaged in torture, who commit torture, potentially that could be a violation of international or other laws.
CARTER: Yes, I think so.
BLITZER: Has there been a violation of the law from your perspective?
CARTER: If you use the international treaties to which we are committed...
BLITZER: Like the Geneva Conventions...
CARTER: Like the Geneva Conventions, and also...
BLITZER: Because early in the -- they said the Geneva Conventions don't apply to these detainees who were not wearing uniforms. They were not part of any formal army. They were picked up on the battlefield and brought to Guantanamo Bay.
CARTER: My impression is that the United States Supreme Court has said that is a false premise. And I presume that the administration complies with the rulings of the Supreme Court. And the international community obviously still adheres to and professes to commit themselves the honoring of the Geneva Convention, and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States helped draft and promoted and has endorsed up until six-and-a- half years ago unanimously among all the...
BLITZER: So should someone be held accountable?
CARTER: Well, I think we -- the best way to hold people accountable in this country is through the election process.
BLITZER: That is the best way to get -- in other words, from your perspective, to get rid of the incumbent administration and move on. But you don't want to see any formal charges or a trial...
CARTER: No, I don't think so. I think that would be inappropriate. That has been done in some cases, as you know, but I don't think it is appropriate at all.