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The Big Lie About Torture

Bernard Chazelle

55watertorture.jpg

US soliders using "water torture" (now called waterboarding) on Phillipino prisoners after the USA invaded that country.


May 2, 2009

The story goes like this: The US didn't torture until the Bush gang came to power. Some say we're a nation of laws and criminal investigations are the only way to return to our virginal past; others share the same objective but reject prosecutions as needlessly divisive; a third group advocates torture as the new post 9/11 norm. A running theme in the liberal commentariat is that things have gotten much worse. But have they? Glenn Greenwald reminds us that even Reagan opposed torture, so see how low we've fallen.

It's certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused [eg, opposition to torture] and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles. Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.

Greenwald implies that it's better to be a hypocrite. But it's not an either/or proposition. By choosing to be a hypocrite, Reagan only managed to be both a hypocrite and a morally depraved barbarian. Those things are additive, not exclusive. Reagan was a scumbag who tried to look like Mother Teresa. Krauthammer is a scumbag who tries to look like a scumbag. Something refreshing about it. If Harvard had always been at the forefront of the fight against torture, then Dershowitz's hysterics would be annoying. But Harvard built a whole center to legitimize human rights violations. And of course it called it, what else, "The Carr Center for Human Rights." That great center for human rights supported every American war throughout its existence. They even advised General Petraeus on counter-insurgency strategy. When you advocate for mass killing, you might as well stick the words "human rights" in your title.

Greenwald's point is that hypocrisy is better because it keeps the debate more civilized, less "right-wing." At least Reagan pretended to support human rights -- as though there's anything redeeming about this. Ignatieff and Dershowitz are the two sides of the same coin. Both are liberals and both advocate human rights abuses. The only difference is that Ignatieff wants to look pretty while Dershowitz enjoys being ugly.

It's been amply documented that the US has condoned, taught, and practiced torture since WWII. The military created a whole university to teach such things as electrocution, confining detaines in coffin-like boxes, kidnapping their parents, etc. The Phoenix program institutionalized torture in Vietnam. So what's all the current commotion about? Why are we so shocked, shocked? ATR will tell you why.

1. Throughout the Cold War, torture was built around the doctrine of plausible deniability. We never did it: the Vietnamese did it; the Greeks did it; the Guatemalans did it; the Nicaraguans did it; etc. We never stopped torturing, of course -- not for a minute -- but we always made sure we could blame a nonwhite guy with a funny accent. Whenever the truth came out (eg, Dana Priest's "revelation" about SOA), the "rotten apple" theory would kick in, followed by cosmetic changes, and then a swift return to the good old days.

2. On 9/11, for the first time in 60 years, foreigners attacked the US. The response was immediate and popular: Screw the doctrine of plausible deniability! As the attack chihuahuas from the Washington Post reminded us, real men torture and brag about it. Post 9/11, hypocrisy became an unnecessary burden. No time for bullshit excuses any more, gang. This time we'll do it ourselves! The shock was that we decided to take responsibility for our torture. Cheney would even boast about it.

3. Trouble is, torturers tend to be the cowardly type. They needed the backing of Papa Bear at DOJ. That's how Berkeley prof John Yoo and his inquisition crew got into the picture. Just so torturers with no one else to blame could sleep better at night. They are very sensitive souls who tremble at the sight of a special prosecutor. The torture memos were simply the price to pay for shedding the doctrine of plausible deniability.

4. Every liberal who opposes investigations today supported torture when torture was cool. Why are they begging us to move on? Because they know an investigation would show they were always John Yoo's ugly siblings. And remember that a liberal's only passion is not to do good but to look good.

When Obama says no to torture and adds "We must adhere to our values," we should ask "What values?" So Tom Brokaw can tell us again about the Greatest Generation, when America did not torture. Or as the New York Review of Books tells us:

"The Americans had used methods similar to those employed by the SS in Dachau." When abuse of German prisoners was investigated in the US-run Schwaebisch Hall prison near Stuttgart in 1945, " of the 139 cases examined, 137 had had their testicles permanently destroyed."


:: Article nr. 53908 sent on 03-may-2009 06:22 ECT

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