The crime of torture is bipartisan

When George W. Bush was in office, he denied that the United States government engaged in torture.  Under his administration, eleven National Guard soldiers were court-martialed, convicted, sent to military prison and dishonorably discharged for engaging in torture.

Now, in his memoir, President Bush says his administration did torture – or at least do things that are defined as torture when foreign governments do it – and he is proud of it.  He said it was legal because one of his legal advisers told him it was legal.

My guess is that Lynndie England and Charles Graner, who are still serving time for acts of torture, thought that what they were doing was legal.  If that is an excuse, shouldn’t they go free?

President Barack Obama denies that the United States government engages in torture any more.  But he refuses to permit an investigation of the Bush administration’s crimes, or to permit independent human rights organizations to inspect secret prisons such as the one outside Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

I wonder what he will say about torture in his memoirs.

Torture is the ultimate crime against humanity.  It is worse than killing because, after all, we’re all going to have to die sometime.  Torture destroys the mind and spirit while the body lives on.

I always thought that there was a bright-line division between American freedom and democracy and its fascist and Soviet enemies in that they engaged in torture and we didn’t.  The U.S. government under President Roosevelt could no doubt have obtained useful information by torturing the Nazi saboteurs, but it didn’t.  The Eisenhower administration could no doubt have obtained useful information by torturing the Communist atom spies, but it didn’t.  This was something we Americans just didn’t do – or so I thought.

Click on Torture for Thee, But Not For Me for a chart that illustrates how American newspapers and broadcasters regard torture as waterboarding when done by foreign governments, but not by the U.S. government.

Click on ‘This government does not torture’ for President Bush’s statement while in office.

Click on Bush Advisor Says President Has Legal Power to Torture Children for a report on the legal advice President Bush was getting at the time.

Click on Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse for the Wikipedia article.

Click on Bush’s selective rejection of torture for a comment on President Bush’s memoir.

Click on Waterboarding is torture, Downing Street confirms for a British comment on President Bush’s memoir.

Click on Torture Is Continuing Under the Obama administration for a report on President Obama’s policies.

Click on Inside a Secret DOD Prison in Afghanistan for Harper’s magazine’s report on the Bagram secret prison.

Click on Federal court allows US to keep info on Bagram prisoners a secret for a report on the Obama administration’s successful effort to enforce secrecy.

Click on Barack Obama Administration Lied About Torture and National Security for a comparison of candidate Obama and President Obama on torture and secrecy.

Click on Ronald Reagan was right on Torture and Barack Obama is wrong for a comment on changing American standards.

Click on The Jack Bauer Decade for another comment on changing American moral standards.

Click on “Verschärfte Vernehmung” for a comparison of U.S. practice with the Gestapo’s rules for “enhanced interrogation.”

Click on The Double Standard Deepens for elaboration on this comparison.

Click on Yukio Asano for a report on one of many Japanese soldiers sentenced to hard labor or death for waterboarding American soldiers.

To be clear, I am not saying the United States today is the moral equivalent of a fascist  state in all respects.  What I do say is that torture is a crime, whether by fascist, Communist or radical Muslim governments or by the U.S. government.   The crime is in the act, not in who does it.

Robert H. Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremburg and later a U.S. Supreme Court justice, had this to say of the Nazi war crimes trials: –

If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

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2 Responses to “The crime of torture is bipartisan”

  1. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    Here’s a real page turner:


    • philebersole Says:

      The best book I’ve read on the overall subject is TORTURE by Edward Peters (1985)

      It is a history of Western attitudes toward torture. Torture was standard practice under Roman law and continued to be accepted in medieval law. It came to be regarded as a crime after 1750, and was abolished in civilized countries, but made a comeback under fascist and Communist rule. At the time the book was published, the prohibition of torture was regarded as a bright line which separated civilized and democratic countries from barbaric and totalitarian countries.

      But at the same time, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was complicit in torture, death squads and terrorism in Latin America. CHILDREN OF CAIN (1991) touches on this. At the time, I thought CIA involvement in torture in Latin America and its School of the Americas in Panama was an aberration, to be understood in the context of the U.S. global duel with the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union has vanished from the map of history, and U.S. complicity in torture has not.

      Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are good sources of information on the current practice of torture worldwide.


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