Written by Nick Pell
“‘Mer’ca doesn’t torture.” – His Imperial Majesty, George Bush II
“I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture.” – Barack Mud’dib Jesus Christ Obama
The end of judicially sanctioned torture was one of the most progressive advances of the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Under most medieval law, a person could not be convicted of a crime unless they confessed to it. Thus, torture was perfected as a means of both punishment, but more importantly interrogation. It’s not that torture ever entirely went away. Even Napoleon Bonaparte, who spearheaded the French fight against torture used it against his political opponents when in power. However, there is something to be said for the de jure prohibition of torture. It is certainly much better to live in a world where such actions are reviled as being worse than murder than one where they are seen as legitimate means of punishment or extracting confession. Indeed, the return to torture by the imperialist governments of the world (either under their own name or by proxy) is perhaps the most disturbing turns toward barbarism since that use of atomic weapons against civilians.
First, a definition of torture is in order. One of the means by which defenders of the previous and current regime weasel their way out of talking about torture in a frank manner is not having a firm definition of what torture is. The Geneva Convention of 1949’s definition of torture works as well as any other:
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
In other words, torture is a punitive, coercive, or interrogative technique where inflicting suffering is the main method of punishment, coercion, or interrogation.
The Cheney / Bush regime became famous for their use of “not” torture, coining the cute phrase “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” The core of these techniques were taken from the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s so-called “five techniques” used against alleged Irish terrorists in the 1970s. In a case before the European Court of Human Rights, Ireland lost to the United Kingdom on the subject of whether or not stress positions, sleep deprivation, or hooding among others were “torture” per se- which in 1978 would be a bit like a woman who was raped while working for Halliburton by other employees losing in a court owned by Halliburton.
Of course, the most famous of these techniques is waterboarding, described by Rush Limbaugh as resembling a fraternity prank. While a number of these techniques (including waterboarding) were explicitly prohibited by Barack Obama, that doesn’t much matter for a couple reasons.
First, there are more contractors in Afghanistan than there will be actual military personnel even after the escalation of troop levels there. These are people who are not beholden to Defense Department directives, or really any other rules except “whatever you can get away with is legal.” Private contractors were implicated in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib which included such harmless fraternity pranks as pissing on detainees, gang rape of a 14 year old girl, and dragging detainees across the floor by a rope attached to their dick.
Stay classy, U.S. military.
The other reason why Obama’s platitudes about ending Bush-era torture don’t much matter is because of the practice of rendition, a practice more accurately described as torture by proxy. This is where the United States under the auspices of the CIA kidnaps someone and has them shipped halfway around the world to a country that tortures with gusto and aplomb. This sometimes includes such ostensible American adversaries as Syria. More frequently, however, the U.S. uses some former Warsaw Pact country desperately in need of brownie points from America or calls on one of their go to guys to vote against resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Israeli. Put simply, the United States doesn’t need to torture. It has plenty of willing accomplices who will do it for them, and more viciously.
No reports of waterboarding yet, but there was a fairly vigorous program of child sexual abuse and other torture in Afghanistan on Big O’s watch. Further, his directive does not undermine the legal framework of torture and indefinite groundless detention pioneered by the Bush Administration. Obama’s Administration does not merely refuse to prosecute those who tortured under President Bush, they have consistently and vehemently defended Bush-era torturers and their legal accomplices.
Other than things like concern for humanity and the rule of law, why should we care? Well, you’ll remember that weapons used in Iraq were later used on protesters here in the United States. As the social inequality and unresponsiveness of our elected officials begins creating the perfect storm of social unrest, what do tools do you think the Administration- be it Democrat or Republican- will use in their repression. Indeed, the chances are great that things like waterboarding will look like a picnic next to what we have coming to us. Advances in psychological, neurology, and other sciences can be used for good or for ill. We are now living in a world where 1984 style torture is a reality for some halfway around the world. It only seems a matter of time before it’s used on troublemakers at home.
Grandmaster, Black Sun Gazette