Thoughts about the Senate torture report

Cowardice is the mother of cruelty.
        ==Essays of Montaigne

When I was younger, I liked to watch action movies about World War Two.  The heroes would fall into the hands of a Nazi officer who would say in a thick accent, “Ve have vays of making you talk.”

Years from now action movies will be made in which the villainous torturer will be an American.

CIACROP-480x270I have always understood that the United States has a history of vigilantism, lynching and lawless violence, but I never thought, until 10 or 12 years ago, that Americans were capable of the cold cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition or the Soviet and fascist dictators.

Torture is the ultimate crime against human dignity.  It is worse than the taking of human life, because it is aimed at killing the human mind and spirit while keeping the body alive.

The Founders of the United States understood this well.  That is why the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no one can be “compelled” to testify against themselves and the Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.”

I remember conversations 10 years back with friends of mine who call themselves liberals.  What if there were an atomic bomb under Manhattan Island attached to a timing device to blow it up, and what if I had the person who knew about the bomb in custody?  Wouldn’t I torture the person?

I would rather live under some small risk, or even a great risk, than live in a country that institutionalized torture, like some European dictatorship in the 1930s.   I would be ashamed to be part of the generation of Americans that gave up the Constitution out of fear.

The Senate torture report says that CIA torture did not provide any intelligence that thwarted any known terrorist plot, but I hate to argue against torture purely on practical grounds.

The Gestapo probably obtained useful information by torturing members of the French Resistance.  Certainly they made capture more fearful than mere death.  I don’t think its usefulness made it morally justifiable.

wass19FricartoonThe Bush-Cheney administration first denied that torture took place, then said it was not policy, then said what they were doing was not torture, then said that the people they tortured were not protected by international law.

This is just what the North Vietnamese said about captured American fliers they tortured.  The Americans were war criminals, they said; they were not protected by the Geneva convention.

By 2008, a majority of the American people had come to accept torture as normal, but I hoped this was an aberration that President Obama would change.

TomTomorrow_Torture_PressConferenceTorturedSomeFolks_2014When he took office, he did in fact issue an executive order banning the use of torture, but then he also said that no torturers would be punished.

To judge the significance of this, I would like to know his definition of “torture” (it might be different from mine or yours).  I would like to know what went on at the detention center at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, which recently was closed.  And I would like to know if there are any detention centers in remote parts of the world.

But taking Obama’s action at face value and assuming that it was obeyed, all he has done is to define torture as a legitimate option that he does not choose to use.  By not treating torture as a criminal offense, or even as a firing offense, he has left torture on the table as an option for the next administration.


Why the Founding Fathers thought banning torture was foundational to the US Constitution by Juan Cole on Informed Comment.  Important.

20 key findings about CIA torture from the Washington Post.  A basic summary of the Senate report.

Essential Reader: The Torture Report by Joshua Holland for Moyers & Company.

For the CIA, truth about torture was an existential threat by Dan Froomkin for The Intercept.  The main purpose of torture was to provide evidence that torture was justified.

Instead of prosecuting torturers, Obama prosecuted the guy who revealed the program by Timothy B. Lee for Vox.

The Money Behind the CIA’s Torture Program by Nathan Vardi for Forbes.

‘Such Language Is Not Helpful’ by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “Thoughts about the Senate torture report”

  1. williambearcat Says:

    Thanks Phil for the quotation and the comment. I’m afraid that the comment on the wall in our church, “Love Not Fear is Spoken Here has been reversed to place a comma between Not and Fear


  2. xhaler Says:

    “…because it is aimed at killing the human mond and spirit…”: How delusory are you? The whole economic programattik of Neoliberalism ascends to this purpose. Physical torture is an humonculitic growth on the bodice of government that pays mere homage to older historic forms of violence —if they *believed* it worked, they’d be much less ashamed of implementing it. This is one of the worst times to be childishly naïve—don’t settle for comfort narratives of ” things have changed (—and I was not a part of it)”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: