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Torture 

The ancient Greeks were different from other peoples of their time, and what’s more they knew they were different. They had a word to describe the difference: the others were barbarians. The English word “barbarians,” as Prof. H.D.F. Kitto explains in his book The Greeks, does not do justice to the Greek word, which literally translated means  the unthinking.  But one of the characteristics the Greeks realized set them apart, and above, barbarians does correspond to our notion of the word as well as theirs. Unlike the barbarians, the Greeks did not rule by torture.

For that and like qualities Ancient Greece is known as the cradle of Western Civilization. Fellows of the Ayn Rand Institute write essays praising that civilization. And then give it up with breathtaking easiness. Say the magic word “war” and government torture is no longer evil, it is a tool among other tools.

The story of official U.S. torture – of America imitating the barbarians of the East – in our time and in our name is so bizarre and disgusting most people cannot take it in. It can’t be happening, it’s out of this universe, out of mind. The story has disappeared from the news headlines but the reports are preserved on our  Links  page.

Torture means taking extra effort to inflict pain on someone already under control. A very simple idea, there is nothing hazy about it. The torturer’s purpose might be:  to obtain a confession – an absurdly meaningless confession;  to obtain information – usually false, and always totally unreliable unless independently verified by other, objective, means;  to punish a person and/or instill fear in a group to which he belongs – though that fear will come with righteous hate;  or simply to do it for itself, like eating candy.

Torture has one further use. Since torture brutalizes the torturer, men can be further dehumanized, made still more mindless and obedient, by requiring them to engage in it. Torture has the same effect on those who look on – or know of it – without protest.

We are referring to state managed torture: government men point to a man and label him to be tortured; other government men proceed to torture him, until – no objective stopping point being possible – he tells them what they want to hear – sensible or not – or until they get tired, or the lunch bell rings. A few years later the torturers return to civilian life and get work as policemen.

ARI is of two minds about the U.S. torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the torture of prisoners “rendered” by the U.S. for the purpose to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Singapore, Thailand, and Pakistan. People at ARI deny that this torture exists, and make self-righteous noises against anyone who says it does. And they say the U.S. ought to torture, in order to help wage the War on Terrorism. I do not explain the contradiction, merely point it out.

ARI insinuates that torturing Arabs is all right because Arabs do it, as if the Middle East had become our standard of decency.

U.S. torture of Arabs is widespread, and was planned by the Bush administration before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Fortunately not everyone in the field of war approves of this torture. We now have the spectacle of one branch of the government investigating the actions of another, or dissenters within one branch fighting their superiors. (So far all the government investigations have been a whitewash.) There are now over a hundred known cases of men tortured to death – by beating their brains in, suffocating them, and general trauma. If the reader is not familiar with these events he can read the following news articles; our discussion of ARI continues afterward:

  • www.afsc.org/pwork/0502/050204.htm
    The government can do anything to prisoners of war because nothing is torture.  This article quotes a Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel memo, dated Aug. 1, 2002, that says a coercive procedure could not be considered torture unless it caused pain equivalent to that accompanying  “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”  Thus the government defines torture almost out of existence.
  • www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines04/0607-01.htm
    “Pentagon Report Set Framework For Use of Torture” (Wall Street Journal June 7, 2004).
    “Bush administration lawyers contended ... that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn’t be prosecuted by the Justice Department.”
  • www.slate.com/id/2102203
    ”Cooking Up Excuses With the Pentagon: How to torture alleged terrorists and get away with it” by Phillip Carter, former U.S. Army officer (Slate June 10, 2004).
    “... no amount of caveating can save the latest Defense Department memorandum on the legality of torture … from being construed as what it is: a cookbook on how to conduct illegal torture and get away with it.”
  • www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-06-01-afghan-prisoners_x.htm
    “Afghan Prison Abuse Details to Stay Secret” (Associated Press, June 1, 2004).
    “The top U.S. general in Afghanistan on Tuesday promised ‘rapid action’ on an internal review of Afghan jails where at least three prisoners have died, but said details of techniques used there will remain classified.” (The wolf investigates the henhouse killings.)
  • www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/article_brief/eandp/1/1000753452
    “ ‘NYT’ Obtains 10 Emails, with Photos, Sent by Accused Abu Ghraib Abuser” (Editor & Publisher, Jan. 14, 2005).
    One Abu Ghraib photograph shows “a bound and naked detainee howling with pain, his legs bleeding” attached to an email by Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. entitled “just another dull day at work.” Another “a detainee’s head bloodied beyond recognition.” “The court has said it would not publicly release the e-mail, which had been retrieved from Graner’s U.S. Army account.”
  • From 60 Minutes II CBS report (April 2004)
    Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick: “We had military intelligence [come into the Abu Ghraib prison], we had all kinds of other government agencies, FBI, CIA ... All those that I didn’t even know or recognize.” He wrote home that he was helping the interrogators: “Military intelligence has encouraged and told us ‘Great job.’ They usually don’t allow others to watch them interrogate. But since they like the way I run the prison, they have made an exception. We help getting them to talk with the way we handle them. ... We’ve had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break.”
  • www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4989422
    “The Roots of Torture ... The Road to Abu Ghraib” (Newsweek May 24, 2004).
    The president, assured by his lawyer Alberto Gonzales, “signed a secret order granting new powers to the CIA. ... the president’s directive authorized the CIA to set up ... secret detention facilities outside the United States, and to question those held in them with unprecedented harshness.
    “Washington then negotiated ... ‘status of forces agreements’ with foreign governments for the secret sites. These agreements gave immunity ... to U.S. government personnel [and] to private contractors.”
  • www.commondreams.org/views05/0225-20.htm
    “Thrown to the Wolves” by Bob Herbert (New York Times February 25, 2005).
    “U.S. policy known as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture.” You can be opposed to Third World immigration without this.
  • www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1683578,00.html
    “West Turns Blind Eye as Police Put Saddam’s Torturers Back to Work”by James Hider (Times Online July 7, 2005)
    Iraqi security forces, set up by American and British troops, torture detainees by [I’ll spare you the details] ... . ... bound prisoners [have been] beaten to death by police. ... Iraqi and US authorities have enlisted men trained under Saddam Hussein’s regime  ... .
  • www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=17216&c=206
    “FBI E-Mail Refers to Presidential Order Authorizing Inhumane Interrogation Techniques” (ACLU, Dec. 20, 2004).
    Read it to the end. They use the same torture handbook as the Mafia.
  • www.truthout.org/docs_2005/082405Z.shtml
    In the following statement by the former commander of Abu Ghraib, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, Cambone is the Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone and Miller is Major General Geoffrey Miller:
    “... this thing is not about what happened in Cellblock 1-A on a night shift. And it is certainly not about seven reservists who went crazy one night. This is about instructions delivered with full authority and knowledge of the Secretary of Defense [Rumsfeld] and probably [Vice President] Cheney. I don't know if the President was involved or not. I don't care. All I know is, those instructions were communicated from the Secretary of Defense's office, from the Pentagon, through Cambone, through Miller, to Abu Ghraib.”
  • www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?040510fa_fact
    “Torture at Abu Ghraib: ... How far up does the responsibility go?” by Seymour Hersh (The New Yorker May 1, 2004).
    “Two Iraqi faces that do appear in the photographs are those of dead men. There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered with blood.”

    If there were but one reason to hate the neocons it would be that they have thrown such ugliness in our faces.

    We now review what ARI has to say about all this.

    “The Morality of War” by Yaron Brook, executive director of ARI – Press Release, Sept. 7, 2004, for a talk given September 9, 2004 at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California as part of the Ayn Rand Institute Lecture Series 2004:

    “Why does it [“Washingon” – the Bush administration] fear torturing prisoners of war, if that could save American lives? In this passionately reasoned lecture, Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute explains why America’s war is being sabotaged. He blames the moral code of Altruism—embodied in the ‘just-war’ theory—that drives Washington’s battle plans. ... Drawing upon Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, he advocates a morality of war based on the principles of rational egoism.”

    The passion of Mr. Brook is sadly misplaced. U.S. torture is not saving American lives – quite the opposite – and torture is the complete inversion of reason and rational egoism. Mr. Brook would make America like Israel, the country he was born and raised in.

    I’m reminded of the following from Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, chapter 29 (Doremus is a character in the novel):

    “Thus had things gone in Germany, exactly thus in Soviet Russia, in Italy and Hungary and Poland, Spain and Cuba and Japan and China. Not very different had it been under the blessings of liberty and fraternity in the French Revolution. All dictators followed the same routine of torture, as if they had all read the same manual of sadistic etiquette. And now, in the humorous, friendly, happy-go-lucky land of Mark Twain, Doremus saw the homicidal maniacs having just as good a time as they had had in central Europe.”

    “The Gonzalez ‘Torture’ ” by Robert Tracinski, in TIA Daily January 4, 2005 (I’ve left standing the inconsistency in the spelling of “Gonzales”):

    “A headline in today’s Washington Times is oddly appropriate: ‘Gonzalez Faces Torture Questions.’ I’ve heard of tough confirmation hearings, but this [one] seems a bit excessive. Actually, Gonzalez is being attacked for a legal opinion that I regard as quite sound: not granting al-Qaeda prisoners the cream-puff treatment demanded by the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war.”

    Not torturing people is “the cream-puff treatment” – that is what Mr. Tracinski really means here. But he pretends to mean something else. He proceeds to agree with and quote from “Gunning for Gonzales,” National Review Online, January 4, 2005, which whitewashes Alberto Gonzales by selective quotation. The NRO article insinuates that Gonzales argued against such things as commissary privileges, when in fact he argued for torture, as the full government memos make abundantly clear.

    Tracinski’s cute title “The Gonzalez ‘Torture’ ” – a man who justifies torture gets confronted with his crime and it is unjust “torture” for him – is a form of vulgarity you might call the Tracinski touch, as is his phrase “the cream-puff treatment.”

    Here is Jack Wakeland of The Intellectual Activist, still in a state of denial as late as January 11, 2005 in the TIA Internet forum:

    “It should be noted that the U.S. military’s use of ‘torture’ that liberals oppose was never actually torture.”

    There are several things wrong with this. Mr. Wakeland denies the existence of U.S. torture. He hides behind the qualification “U.S. military” while ignoring the torture by the U.S. CIA. And he attributes all criticism of torture to liberals.

    Evidently if you object to your country torturing people to death you simply must be a liberal. The liberals don’t deserve the compliment.

    Here is Robert Tracinski again, TIA Daily April 27, 2005. “The ‘Virginia Jihad’ ”

    “... a cell of Muslim terrorists and terrorist-sympathizers led by a pro-Jihad cleric in Northern Virginia. Why hasn’t the press been all over this story? Why haven’t they hyped it the way they hyped Abu Ghraib?”

    “Hype” is a pejorative word, suggesting that what interest there is in Abu Ghraib is artificially generated and goes beyond what the facts justify. We should not really care very much about Abu Ghraib.

    Mr. Tracinski pretends to believe that U.S. torture is confined to (paraphrasing the ARI line) “a few bad apples at Abu Ghraib” instead of occurring in many places and at orders from the top.

    There’s much more, reviewed in other articles on this website – see  Torture and Intrinsicism  for a list.  ARI is pretty quiet about U.S. torture, and when it speaks of it, it lies. Even when Yaron Brook laments: “Why does [the Bush administration] fear torturing prisoners of war ...” he lies. The Bush administration and the neocons do not fear torturing prisoners of war, they continue to do it even now. What they fear is publicity.

    The following is from a review of the book Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, about George Washington during the Revolutionary War:

    “In New York, [George] Washington had wept while watching through a spyglass as the British massacred Americans who had surrendered. But Washington, Fischer writes, ‘often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies.’ To the American officer in charge of 221 prisoners taken at Princeton, Washington said, ‘Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren.’ ”

    This attitude may well have contributed to the demoralization of King George’s mercenaries and helped win the Revolutionary War. The people at ARI can’t begin to comprehend this benevolent attitude, either morally or practically.

    Geneva Conventions and international human rights standards may be fine things, but America ought to – and once did – possess its own decency. The neocons and their sympathizers at the sickenly-named Ayn Rand Institute have taken that decency away. There are many things to dislike about ARI.  This by far is the worst.