Saturday, 9 March 2013

Torture now okay--but only if needed

The post-9/11 debate over the ‘ticking timebomb’ scenario was a hugely successful exercise in social grooming to prepare us for today’s torture-lite regime. We recall that this discussion, which reached even into the pages of The Nation and other liberal-ish venues in the early 2000s, was about when, how and under what circumstances it would be kinda-sorta okay to torture people. The debate turned almost exclusively on the mythic hypothetical of a terrorist suspect who knew that an attack was about to occur and could be compelled to spill the beans, thereby enabling us to suck our thumbs and contemplate precisely how many racks, electric cattle prods and waterboards would we then decide to apply to save these thousands of innocents.

People who have lived under governments that torture as a matter of state policy immediately grasped that this was a phony debate that should never have taken place. Such bizarre scenarios were mere window-dressing for the real aim, which was to enable our government to torture anyone it damn pleased and get away with it, and that is exactly what happened. The Bush/Cheney/Dark Side apparatus promptly took the mere existence of the debate as a resounding ‘Yes!’ and proceeded to apply ‘enhanced interrogation’ to anything that moved, including the obviously innocent, some of whom still reside at Guantánamo today. Anything to keep us SAFE.

No one was prosecuted for torturing bound and caged human beings except whistle-blowers or hapless low-level enforcers who didn’t have enough sense to cover their tracks. And that’s the situation Barack Obama chose to bury with pious murmurings about looking to the future and not the past.

So now we have an even faster descent into moral depravity as leading Republicans express outrage that Obama would dare to actually bring a terrorist suspect to trial rather than shipping him off to our official dungeon and beating the fuck out of him for the next 20 years. Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law is actually to get a trial in a courtroom, imagine that. As the Guardian article explains,

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, accused Barack Obama of putting his desire to close Guantánamo ahead of the country’s security needs. The decision denied the intelligence community the opportunity to interrogate Suleiman Abu Ghaith to obtain information about possible harm to the US, McConnell claimed.

McConnell was quite explicit about why the evil Ay-rab had to be shipped off to the Cuban black hole:

“At Guantánamo, he could be held as a detainee and fulsomely and continuously interrogated without having to overcome the objections of his civilian lawyers”. [emphasis added]

What admirable clarity! We want him there because the rule of law will not apply, which is how much we care about that dusty old Constitution. If it will make us safer, we want it.

But the White House spokesman Josh Earnest brushed aside McConnell’s claim [that the spooks need the guy in Cuba]. “With all due respect, that’s not the assessment of the intelligence community”, Earnest said.

Note that Mr Earnest did NOT argue that torturing someone is wrong or that the U.S. has a system of laws that govern the process of accusation, trial and punishment. He argues strictly from utility and efficiency, i.e., we can get everything we need from bin Laden fils-in-law without having to torture him. Earnest also explicitly stated that the accused had committed crimes, which used to be left to that old-fashioned thing called a jury.

Earnest and his boss Mr O. thereby leave open the possibility and in fact probability that if a future case in which torture might actually give us good data, it will be duly applied. The only guiding principle is whether it will work.

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