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09 Oct 2007
Recently a Washington Post associate editor proposed that President Bush and others in his administration who support torture (or as the administration likes to phrase it "harsh interrogation techniques") should go through the sanctioned techniques themselves.
Eugene Robinson wrote on a washingtonpost.com discussion board on Sunday:
"My proposal on torture is serious. Let me know if you agree: Bush administration officials who claim the 'harsh' interrogation techniques being used on terrorism suspects are not torture should have to undergo those same techniques. Personally. Repeatedly."
Robinson has a point. After all, this would be a good experiment to conclude whether or not the administration's policies mesh with their rhetoric, and would bring a lot of peace of mind for those of us who are worried that the U.S. is breaking international and domestic laws that prohibit torture.
After all, If being waterboarded and/or having to sit naked for 3 days in a cold cell is fine with them, maybe we would need to reevaluate our revulsion to such practices.
But, of course, we know that President Bush, Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, co-author of the "torture memos," would never take up such a bold proposition. They know exactly what these "harsh" treatment are: torture by another name. They would never submit to what the goat herder who got swept up in Afghanistan for the ransom money would submit too. They would be terrified and wet their pants.
But, we should be asking ourselves: Why does the administration want to torture people anyway? Isn't torture justly condemned all around the world? Why would the U.S. want to commit such abhorrent practices when it could damage the nation's reputation?
The administration's excuse for torture is that it is the only way to get actionable intelligence from those who are resistant to talk. They basically use the "ticking-time" hypothesis that law professor Alan M. Dershowitz has raised in his arguments in support of torture.
However, there is a big problem with this argument as people will confess to just about anything just to make the torture stop. As Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights puts it, "The 'intelligence' coming out of the Guantanamo interrogations is... basically garbage." Most pychologists and interrogators would agree.
So, maybe we should be looking for a more likely rationale for torture.
Naomi Wolf has been studying the rise of fascism in America. Her latest book, "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot" spells out why torture is so appealing to fascists regimes, especially when the state's excuse for repression is primarily a ruse:
She writes on page 71:
"Consider: If you have a much-hyped threat that you've used to lead the nation to war—and if case after case against the "dangerous terrorists" falls apart—don't you need false confessions? If you torture people prisoners, you will certainly obtain an endless stream of false confessions...
The answer I believe is political stage management: Because how can we demonstrate we are at war without military commissions and detainees?
If there were a fair legal system that sorted out the guilty from the innocent, it would be impossible to maintain the main goals—not to mention the profits, though this pressure is doubtless unconscious—of the War on Terror. Too many innocent people would be sent home."
Naomi hits the nail on the head here.
Of course, you need people to confess to being combatants in a fictional war, and torture is a great weapon in the administration's arsenal to support their thesis: the innocent goat herder can be transformed by electric shocks into a menacing islamofascist bent on importing a dirty bomb into America; and, the American patriot who believes that the Constitution is the law of the land can become a member of "al Queda in America" with enough water being pour down his throat. Their confessions validate the war-makers' myth.
Confessions through torture was also a favorite tactic of the Roman Catholic church during the Inquisition. Like today, false accusations and "confessions" of so-called witches were used to decimate the church's enemies and confiscate people's land and wealth.
Nothing much changes in how repressive states work: back then it was witches that did the "devil's work"; today, it is "evildoers," bent on taking away our freedoms.
And, there's also another side benefit for the state to announce that it tortures: it has a chilling effect on dissent here at home. Today, if you are declared an "enemy combatant," and Bush now has that authority to call you one by his say-so alone, you can be tortured too. I believe he, and the state, want you to know that.
Of course, they are hoping that we will shrink in fear and be compliant with this knowledge. If we lose our courage to speak out, they win. We all need to condemn the perpetrators and supporters of torture as well as expose the lies that help them get away with these crimes.
(above art by http://www.dagnabbit.com)