Again with the Torture

Posted: November 8, 2009 in Ethics, Idealism, Legal Matters, Politics, Torture

There you go again, I can imagine my interlocutors saying in a Reaganesque moment, again with the torture. Between torture and the closely related modern security state, I’ve blogged numerous times (sorry, no links — just do a search) to report my disgust and condemnation, not that any of it matters. Registering those sentiments is irrelevant. So why bring it up again? Because it just stinks, and much as I hate to have knowledge of it, the problem needs repeated airing.

The precipitating news this time is a Salon article by Glenn Greenwald about a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Arar vs. Ashcroft (searchable here). The case is “just” another instance of extraordinary rendition and subsequent torture of an innocent person over the course of ten months, which actions are by now so routine that the terms extraordinary and torture have lost all their impact. Business as usual. Move along. Nothing to see. Greenwald nails it with this comment:

So continuous are the inhumane and brutal acts of government leaders that the citizens completely lose the capacity for moral outrage and horror.  The permanent claims of existential threats from an endless array of enemies means that secrecy is paramount, accountability is deemed a luxury, and National Security trumps every other consideration — even including basic liberties and the rule of law.  Worst of all, the President takes on the attributes of a protector-deity who can and must never be questioned lest we prevent him from keeping us safe.

The court decision (granting blanket immunity to government functionaries in cases of presumed national security) appalls me, not just because it fails so utterly in basic humanity but because the courts are (or once were) our best hope for checks on excesses of the Executive Branch. Congress certainly isn’t applying the brakes.

The state hasn’t merely set its sights on foreigners traveling to or through the U.S. Here is a glimpse of what’s to come as the civil authorities wage domestic battles against the citizenry: “Robocops Come to Pittsburgh.” The array of high-tech assaults now becoming available to police (which now resemble the armed forces) is just astounding. Although these devices are rationalized as means to quell unrest or disperse protesters, those folks out on the streets are usually Americans, and they’re typically reacting to something, sometimes with inchoate, unfocused violence. But they’re increasingly recharacterized by those charged to protect them as un-Americans, anti-Americans, terrorists, or evildoers. Sure, sometimes they’re mere vandals or criminals, but not often. Yet they and others on the scene unfortunate enough to be guilty by proximity (including journalists) are swept into whatever administrative action is decided upon by civil authorities, which typically entails catch-and-release dragnets completed within the 24-hour window where charges must be filed yet function to dispirit and nullify all forms of public protest.

This is what is meant by the dictum Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. The holders of power are insulated from accountability and derive erotic pleasure from deploying power. The connection between sexuality and death is pretty well recognized in the marketplace of ideas. Here is one of many such analyses tied to recent ideology. Will it go away in time with education, shame, moral uplift, protest, etc.? I doubt it. Like other Machiavellian behaviors and institutions, such as slavery, they keep cropping up again and again in disguised or subtly altered forms because their underlying appeal or utility never goes away fully. I guess the dream of world peace is the stuff of beauty pageant contestants, who mouth the words for us, telling us what we want to hear about both them and ourselves, so that we can sleep quietly at night. Meanwhile, the atrocities continue.

  1. Brutus, I have no doubt what you’re saying is true. It’s as if I’ve watched it gain momentum year after year. I wonder if some eras are better than others, or if it’s always been, as if certainly seems now, one downward spiral.

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