Torture: Look Back in Anger

 

By Aaron Leonard
In the last couple of weeks we have learned quite a bit more about the U.S.’s use of waterboarding — that relic of the Spanish Inquisition that has reappeared in the new millennium.

As things turn out, agents of the U.S. government have been doing a lot of waterboarding over the past several years. In fact, they have been doing it on levels that ought to be unimaginable. Two
prisoners in U.S. custody were each waterboarded 266 times in one month. Imagine that! Being brought to the brink of drowning eight times a day on average. That’s what we learn from reading formerly secret memos on these “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were released in the middle of April.

No sooner did the government release those memos than the commander in chief himself, Barack Obama, scurried over to CIA headquarters to reassuringly tell the agency, “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn.” 
Mistakes? One can imagine Professor Obama’s punishment. Maybe it would be writing, “I will not waterboard excessively” 100 times on the blackboard. Or maybe “I will not beat someone so badly that their legs become pulpified and they die” like they did in Bagram, Afghanistan. Or, “I will not run someone’s head into a wall without having a towel wrapped around their neck to ensure the impact is not fatal” like the torture memos describe. 

All of this was done. People were hurt, people were damaged, people were killed. That some of those tortured were Islamic fundamentalists with a twisted view of what constitutes fair rules of war is beside the point. The problem with torture is what it says about the state of civilization at any given time.

What it says right now is something sickening.

After WWI, a lot of people wanted to try the German kaiser as a war criminal. For reasons of political expediency it never happened. Instead, as Margaret MacMillan notes in her book “Paris 1919,” “The kaiser lived on until 1941, writing his memoir, reading P. G. Woodehouse, drinking English tea, walking his dog, and fulminating against the international Jewish conspiracy which he had discovered had brought Germany and himself low.”

Apparently Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush are negotiating lucrative contracts toward writing their memoirs. I wonder what they’re going to say? 

Dick Cheney, for his part, is already talking a lot. He’s going around claiming that torture worked and prevented attacks on America. So far there’s no evidence this is true or that torture has ever stopped “a ticking time bomb,” but even if it were, so what? Even if this did prevent something awful from happening, it’s disgraceful that those were the depths this government has descended to. It has and will do nothing but cultivate an atmosphere in which more awful things happen.

So once again — despite the mass of evidence of how deliberate and depraved this was — we see the executive branch of the U.S. empire feverishly pushing to turn the page on this legacy of torture. Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put out the official position on ABC’s “This Week": “It’s not the time to use our energy and our time in looking back [in] any sense of anger and retribution.”

This torture was done in the name of our safety. We were not asked if this was OK. We were not asked to allow our humanity to be degraded by such actions. This was done, and now it stands. If that doesn’t anger Emanuel or Obama, well too bad for them. These are still crimes that need to be accounted for.
 

This article originally appeared in Washington Square News