We, Torturers

December 30, 2014

Nearly a month in into digesting the heavily edited executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the Central Intelligence Agency ‘s Detention and
Interrogation Program, I’m left with the horrible realization that we stand revealed as a nation of torturers. I’m ashamed; we should all be.

We tortured many people. We killed some of them in the process of torturing them. Some of them should never have been captured or imprisoned

Of course “detention and interrogation” are euphemisms, as is “intelligence.”   I wish the Select Committee had used the word torture more frontally. Let’s call the horrible thing by name, and let’s be done with the canard that what we did led to more intelligent action.

But let’s also be done with thinking that the torture is something for which Dick Cheney, John Brennan or the CIA are principally responsible. They certainly directed the action, but we all bear the responsibility, even those of us that argued against waging a “war on terror” and against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reflecting on the report (being repulsed by it) I realized I had settled into thinking that the torture — which, honestly, we have known about for many years — was the doing of a few people who, in secret, did things which most of us would not support. But that’s not true.

public opinion on tortureJust after the report’s release, the Pew Research Center on the People and the Press released an opinion poll on what the CIA did.  About Half See CIA Interrogation Methods as Justified, they title the report.  (Notice the questions speak of “interrogation methods” not torture.) We the people support what Cheney and Brennan and the CIA did.

When Ronald Reagan signed the U.N. Convention on Torture in 1984 (!) he did not do so grudgingly. He said:

“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.  (h/t Andrew Sullivan)

I knew the United States had failed to ratify the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. (Let’s remember the other six countries that voted against creation of the the ICC in 1984: (Saddam Hussein’s) Iraq, Israel, (Qaddafi’s) Libya, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, and Yemen.) I knew the United States had not signed the Ottawa Treaty that bans land mines. But I nevertheless thought my United States a civilized nation because we had ratified the U.N. Convention on Torture. But that ratification has now been shown to be an empty commitment. We are a nation that tortures, and we are not disposed to see that what we have done is wrong.

We don’t say we support torture, we justify it by using different words: they torture, we, on the other hand, use enhanced interrogation methods.  How do we know we do not torture? Because we say we don’t: we sanitize the waterboarding and rectal feeding by calling them something else. We cloak ourselves in righteousness: because we are the United States we do not do bad things.

It is time for us all to look in the mirror and say to ourselves we are a nation that tortures. And then it is time for us to begin the hard work to become a nation that genuinely keeps its promise that it will not torture people.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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One Response to We, Torturers

  1. Pingback: The Narrow Road to the Deep North | River View Friend

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