In all the analysis and discussion of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, we are missing a key question. Rather, we can easily think about a key question incorrectly. The question is simple: why did we torture prisoners? The answer is equally simple: to obtain information that would keep our country safe. That launches us into discussions about whether these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques yielded information that actually helped our national security apparatus.
That line of reasoning misses the point for two reasons. First, torture is a crime no matter what reason you give for engaging in it. International and domestic laws about torture do not include a self-defense provision. Torturers are criminals, period. More significantly, given the way bureaucracies work, people who authorize or order torture are criminals.
These criminals currently serve in our government. They are rewarded, honored, and promoted for their service. Others have retired from government service. George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, and various high officials at the Central Intelligence Agency clearly committed war crimes. They write books and op-eds, give speeches and go on talk shows to defend themselves. They give press conferences! George W. Bush even awarded George Tenet the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor, in recognition of his service to protect our country. That service included oversight of a torture program that included rectal rehydration, waterboarding, stress positions, and death by beating, asphyxiation, hypothermia, and who knows what other causes. You know the list.
The second reason the conventional line of reasoning misses the point is that it does not consider the nature of the crime that caused us so much fear in the first place. It assumes that everything about the planning and execution of 9/11 originated outside our own country. That assumption proves incorrect. No reasonable look at all the evidence supports the external-only hypothesis to account for origins of the 9/11 attacks. Reasoning about the motivation for the CIA’s torture program must allow for the possibility that the 9/11 attacks were a state crime against democracy. When you see why 9/11 occurred, when you correctly describe what happened on 9/11, you can see more clearly why the United States developed such an extensive program to torture its prisoners.
I will not undertake more analysis of the 9/11 evidence here. Many previous posts, under the category Infamy, do that. Many other respected authors, including David Ray Griffin, also argue that 9/11 was a state crime against democracy. Let’s assume for the moment that the argument is true. Then all of the appalling things we did to our prisoners in the government’s so-called global war on terror make sense. You don’t need to argue about efficacy or actionable intelligence anymore. Efficacy of interrogation techniques do not get at the core motivation for torture.
Torture is not an intelligence gathering technique. Everyone knows that. You cannot tell whether the prisoner is giving you good or bad information. The proportion of bad information is much higher when you use torture. A first-grader can tell you that. Torture is the use of cruelty to exert control. Torture is like pulling the wings off a fly, except the subject is human, rather than an insect. Wise people have said that if you want to know someone’s inner nature, see how the person treats animals. If an individual treats animals cruelly – thoughtfully causes an animal extended and unnecessary pain – that person has a real problem. Animals are helpless before humans. They are subject to our control. The same is true of human prisoners. Torture is cruelty made manifest, and a way to exert extreme control over another person.
Now you understand why the concept, state crime against democracy, becomes relevant to the phenomenon of torture. If our own government is complicit in any activity that enhances its own power at the expense of democratic control, we should recognize its actual motives. All the fears engendered by 9/11, fears our government eagerly directed toward shadowy terrorists beyond our borders, should have been anger directed toward the criminals within. We thought we had to protect ourselves against enemies abroad, operating out of mountain or desert redoubts. False flags appeared everywhere. Our enemies are much closer than we think.
We have not been vigilant. The same people who blew up the World Trade Center, also undertook to torture the prisoners they blamed for the crime. We can’t say the low-level officers who conducted the interrogations had the same motives as the people who got away with 9/11. People who have to follow orders often don’t profit much from trying to understand everything about the people who give those orders. They just want to feed their families and keep their jobs.
Besides, the chain of command is pretty long. The people at the top of the chain don’t even want to know what the people at the bottom of the chain are doing! So no one is responsible: not the lower end of the chain, not the middle, and not the upper end. Yet the state crime against democracy occurs, the torture occurs, and government becomes the leviathan we have always tried to escape.
If we don’t repudiate torture, and correctly name the people who authorized it, we walk into the enemy’s maw. People who torture others – government authorities who mistreat prisoners who wear beards and read the Koran – will eventually mistreat you. If necessary, to protect themselves, they will kill you. People fed up with police mistreatment know that in their guts.