SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.'” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

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14 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

  1. Ted, what can those of us who agree 100% with what you say actually *DO* to bring criminals like Bush & Cheney before the World Court to answer for their crimes? This is too important to let them off scot-free! (By “looking forward and not back” we legitimize every crime committed by anyone in our society.) 🙁

    • Well, we could all pour out into the streets and demand that Obama go to prison. And Bush. Etc. Of course, organization would be required.

      • Hey, the last time I poured out into the streets with friends and neighbors (protesting the invasion of Iraq), the FBI (or other government officials) were there in their black automobile with darkened windows, taking pictures of all the participants for their files. My neighbor, a professional photographer, walked right up the car and took THEIR picture, cameras in hand. If they’re capable of that, they’re capable of using firearms next time around. I rather live in MEXICO, where the officials and the cartels are HONEST!!!

  2. And people wonder why someone would bomb a marathon. I don’t care how spoiled or amercanised that prick was, he’s the fucking Piper that came to call and collect.

  3. Another aspect that shows how little professed codes of morality and civilization actually matter is the big policy change under the Obama administration following up from the lesser Bush#2 administration: rather than rounding up people based on flimsy evidence in murky dealings the US state apparatus now simply assassinates them in a big explosion that kills bystanders. Both courses of actions are ordered from the top to make someone look “strong” and mostly serve some mid-level apparatchik’s desire to “meet their numbers” to secure their career…

    Assassination is “cleaner” in that there are no pesky survivors who need to be warehoused, and, in a manner unforeseen by the paper pushers retain agency by trying to sue in court and going on hungerstrikes. This method was even chosen for OBL himself. This pragmatic decision shows that the “Realists” have pushed back the “Idealist” aberation that was the Bush/Cheney#1 administration.

    That this policy can even be contemplated, let alone normalized, underscores the inability to see the humanity in people who are “other”, as laid out by Ted. History shows that such policies tend to creep back to home – e.g. see Alfred McCoy’s work on what Americans practiced in the Philippines, or what European militaries practiced in Africa (including building of concentration camps). This is especially ironic since the mantra was that “we” need to fight “them” “over there”, so “they” don’t follow “us” “home”.

    Also, the problem with killing by the numbers (see Scahill’s Dirty Wars) is that there is no upper limit: there can always be more drone attacks than last year, unless we finally reign them in. Under Stalinism, deep state bureaucracies ended up deporting ever larger numbers of “traitors”, until a substantial proportion of the population got deported and the system finally broke down after the death of the autocrat and growing resistence from inside the Gulag archipelago (see e.g. Adam Hochschild’s excellent book on Stalin and Russia). This will also eventually pass?

  4. «Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.» Ted, I hate to rain on your party, but the head of state here in Sweden is the king, not a president, and he says and does a lot of silly things, but it’s rather unlikely that he will be deprived of his taxing job before leaving us for a better world….


      • We have the best of both worlds, Ted, a monarch whose competence can be called into question, but whose direct political influence is limited, and a parliamentary faux democracy, in which the prime minister (statsminister) takes his (hitherto always his) marching orders from the US embassy. That’s why we have troops in Afghanistan, killing people there in order to «defend» Sweden, and why our foreign minister, whose half a century as a CIA operative he must be celebrating now, is one of those most anxious to see NATO (read USA) intervene militarily in the Ukraine, now that the putsch in Kiev hasn’t quite brought about the results desired….


      • They’re the same, Ted. One person has all the power. The question is whether he knows how to wield it. Look at Reagan. He got what he wanted. Look at Dubya. He flew home in his pajamas to help molest a braindead woman whose husband was trying to stop the freak show her body’s dying had become. Look at Obama. Well, gosh, jeepers, he isn’t KING!!!!!1! We elected a president!

        If you have power and know how to use it, you run the world. Talk to Steve Jobs in hell about it. Ask Mark Zuckerberg. He has “meetings” with the president.

        Why? What the fuck could a 26-year-old geek who made his fortune by snooping through everyone’s underwear drawer for his corporate owners possibly have in the way of “wisdom”? The robber barons of the 19th century had wisdom. They were able to steal, steal, steal, and they got away with it. They didn’t have computers or advisers. They had their brains, innate cunning and predatory skills that would be a current-era Russian mafioso to shame. “Da. I try to killsky. He ended up talking me into chopping off my own penisky!”

  5. Germans, living under Nazi rule and in denial, must have daily smelled the scent of roasted meat coming from concentration camps and surmised the endless stream of people into the camps were eating better than they were.

    “Living is easy misunderstanding all you see”–Beatles.

    • That would be :”Living is easy with eyes closed Misunderstanding all you see”–Beatles

  6. It’s just really, REALLY scary the way that so many so called liberals see nothing wrong with torture or murder in the name of security.

    I remember bitching my head off on a couple of liberal blogs about the gangland style murder of UBL. I fully expected the wrongnuts to support it bigtime, but 99% of the damn lefties thought it was a good idea as well. WTF??

    I remember one guy saying, “hey, it’s not like they’re killing Americans” … And a couple months later we did exactly that, to a great big ho-hum from the media and everyone else. Once you’ve told duh gubbmint you’re okay with torture, you’ve got nothing to complain about when they put YOU on the old waterboard.

    • CrazyH, there are «liberals» (progressives) and then there are «bomb ’em liberals». In the US, alas, the latter seem to far outnumber the former, at least in the corporate media, to which the former rarely have access….