We are the Bad Guys

Posted: April 23, 2009 in Culture, Ethics, Idealism, Politics

Recently released documents from 2002 and 2003 allegedly justifying use of torture by U.S. henchmen (CIA, military, whoever) against suspected terrorists escaped my attention until yesterday. Some sources say the documents were leaked, others say the Obama Administration declassified them, yet others say they were made public through efforts of the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. No matter; they’re public and they’re attracting lots of attention. NPR’s story is a pretty good summary.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by any revelations the documents publicize. That’s only because I already have the lowest possible opinion of the Bush Administration and its actions in the “war on terror.” (One editorial, lost to me among a glut of commentary on this topic, suggests that scare quotes around that phrase are now permanent, as it’s become clear that neither war nor terror are accurate terms.) It used to be that villains who made a scientific study of torture techniques and “enjoyed” their work were mostly fictional, like the sometimes jokey villains in a James Bond flick. The “torture memos,” as the documents are being called collectively, demonstrate pretty clearly that we are villains every bit as bad as our prisoners, whose guilt or innocence is irrelevant as long we believe they possess information. In the cloud of confusion spewed by claims of national security and myriad justifications about how we need to torture to thwart further terrorist attacks, it’s clear that our leaders have lost their humanity. How far the synecdoche between us/we and our elected and appointed leaders extends is an open question. However, you don’t have to read far into the comments of a typical news story to find someone opining “like I give a rat’s ass about some terrorist’s civil rights,” so any separation between us, the masses, and our leader is pretty thin.

In the clear light of day, the extremity of the U.S.’s torturing of others is not merely villainous, it’s criminally insane. For instance, in the interrogation of two prisoners, their torturers found it “necessary” to use waterboarding at least 83 times during August 2002 and 183 times during March 2003. You have to be a sick, twisted, miserable fuck to believe such excess is anything other than inhumane and unjustifiable, even by obtaining useful information. Because after the first 5 times someone is waterboarded, then next time he will break and reveal all. Or is it after the 50th time, or the 100th, or some other number? One especially sickening detail is that physicians were on hand to ensure that prisoners didn’t die at the hands of their torturers. However, that’s another way of saying that those physicians, in flat betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath, took steps to prolong the suffering of those being tortured.

So just for the record, let me point out that torture is criminal. The Geneva Conventions are pretty clear on this point, and attempts to see just how much we can get away with without veering over the line — mostly by obviously self-serving attempts to redefine the line — are heading the wrong direction: back towards barbarity rather than toward greater civility and peace. But, of course, we’re not really pushing the line; we crossed it and obliterated it. The memos are simple CYA. In reality, we’re bad guys, criminals, torturers, the very people terrorists decide to attack because of our corrupted humanity.

In the movie Watchmen, a film I didn’t really like for a lot of reasons, I nonetheless responded to several ideas that were fairly high concept. One such ideal was the character Rorschach’s insistence that, while being brutally avenging, he would not compromise on anything, ever, even to his eventual destruction. That’s what our attitude toward torture should be: utterly uncompromising, meaning never even dare contemplate it, because it’s wrong. Period. Done. End of discussion. Cheney’s ranting that torture saved lives doesn’t matter. In addition, bringing torturers to justice, which appears to be gaining enough momentum to be inevitable, should not be mischaracterized as retribution. It’s about the rule of law. You break the law, you will be prosecuted. No political compromises such as selective enforcement should be tolerated. Not on this issue. If we continue to dither about it, just drive a stake through the heart of the American people, because we’re already dead inside.

  1. Vilon says:

    Yes, I agree. But Brutus, I am surprised that these memos result in public outrage when the following pictures from Abu Ghraib were released to the public. Just go there and take a quick look:


    The prisoners on the pictures were captured in Iraq while trying to defend against, what they perceived as an invasion. We now know there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and to the last count 86,000 people died as a result of American arrival in this country.

    If you ask me, the people at Gitmo had it good compared to these poor people. The damage made to the US reputation is extreme. Saddam in the Kurdish region used gas 20 years before his downfall. The pictures of this gassing was used against Saddam until he died.

    The first step to fixing things up is to face them. I am happy the Obama administration has taken that first step.

    Go take a look at the pictures on that website, my guess is you can’t scroll down to the bottom of the page.

  2. This is the first time the US as torture specialists operated without a cover. It’s the first time our own government has publicly released a record of its activity.

    My personal take, however, has been that the US has long been the world’s torture expert. Didn’t we send advisors to almost any country with socialist leanings during the Cold War? Think of Latin America in the 1970s through the -80s. Most people will admit we sent weapons and money to countless military dictatorships. The plan was to use these against the country’s populace. The weapons came with experts determined to help rulers collect “information” from its impoverished citizens.

    This time we tortured without an alias. If the media is shocked and the people learning about waterboarding (where have they been the past twelve years?) is shocked–good. Maybe the US will back off from its terrible techniques.

  3. opit says:

    Maybe pigs will fly.
    I’m sorry. Anybody who wants a ‘heads up’ just has to make 2 quick searches.
    ‘U.S. military interventions’
    ‘US military bases worldwide’
    The School of the Americas instructed staff from countries with dictators how to torture. The program was not a new GWB initiative – but it was organized by the USA.

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