Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

A Little Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics, prison, torture, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 17, 2009

justice“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture

The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.

I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him). 

Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”

This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.

That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.

We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.

The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis. 

This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)

This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.

If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.

The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.

4 Responses

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  1. Lamont Cranston said, on April 23, 2009 at 2:17 am

    I’m not sure why you’re so shocked, since you’re quoting McCoy then you’re familiar with his work documenting he CIAs long history with torture also documented in William Blums ‘Killing Hope’.
    Speaking of which try to track down Costa Gavras film ‘State of Siege’ (État de Siège) – its a fictionalised account of Uruguay’s Tupamaro guerrillas kidnapping and putting on trial CIA agent Dan Mitrione the man in charge in the 1960s of training South American security forces in techniques of interrogation and torture.
    The unique difference in the case of the Bush II administration from prior eras is that for whatever reason these fellas took the unusual step of getting personally involved; and not only in authorising but in the minutiae of it. They forsook all the many layers of bureaucracy and agencies that provide insulation and deniability – the Executive or National Security Council gives some sort of vague order – “we need to something about X” – and its passed along down through the chain.
    Try connecting prominent names to the Phoenix Program or the South American decades-spanning nightmare. You cant.

  2. allisonkilkenny said, on April 23, 2009 at 2:28 am

    I didn’t use the word “shocked” anywhere precisely because you’re right, this has been going on for decades. You’re also right about the Bush executive branch seizing unprecedented power in the name of “national security.” Thanks for posting, Lamont.

  3. Lamont Cranston said, on April 23, 2009 at 2:36 am

    well thats the whole tone, that this a shocking new development unprecendented in history. My mistake.

  4. allisonkilkenny said, on April 23, 2009 at 3:10 am

    No, if it was shocking and new, the title would have been: SHOCKING, NEW TORTURE. The tone is wry, sarcastic, with a pinch of cynicism, and yes, a call for justice at the end. 🙂


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