The Torture Election


As the presidential horse race grows more frenzied and absurd — Flag pins!  Bowling! Obliteration!– it is important to keep in mind what the election is really about: torture.

Specifically, the use of torture as an openly admitted, formally recognized instrument of national policy, approved at the highest level of government. The Bush Administration has now dropped all pretense that it is not engaging in interrogation techniques and incarceration practices long recognized by both international and U.S. law as blatantly criminal. What’s more, the Administration boldly asserts that the president can simply ignore laws prohibiting torture if he feels that circumstances warrant the use of "interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law," the New York Times reported over the weekend.

(The Washington Post had a similar story — similarly buried deep inside the paper. A brazen declaration of presidential tyranny — in the service of torture, no less — was considered worth mentioning somewhere in the "papers of record," but obviously not worth making a big fuss about.)

Torture is at the very heart of the Bush presidency, the most quintessential manifestation of its governing philosophy: a "Commander-in-Chief" state, where presidential directives can override any law in the name of "national security." The use of torture demonstrates that not even the most heinous crimes — including techniques used by Nazi sadists and KGB brutes — are beyond the pale of the "unitary executive’s" arbitrary will. On the basis of  this authoritarian power — established through a series of presidential orders and "legal" opinions by appointed lackeys — many other crimes can be "justified": aggressive war; kidnapping and rendition; indefinite detention; secret prisons; warrantless surveillance; even the "extrajudicial killing" of people the president designates as terrorists or terrorist "suspects."

The highest officials of the Bush Administration have gone to enormous lengths to twist, pervert and destroy legal precepts that have been in force in Anglo-American law for centuries — precisely because they know that their policies are criminal under any reasonable understanding of the law. Bush, and the likely prime mover of the torture regime, longtime authoritarian Dick Cheney, were told at the very beginning that the policies they were instigating would leave them and their minions open to criminal charges. That’s why the Administration’s legal hacks have devoted so much relentless attention on subverting the Geneva Conventions, which are incorporated into and have the full force of American law.

Bush and his minions know that if the rule of law is ever restored — even partially and imperfectly — they will be rightly be subject to prosecution, imprisonment and possibly even execution.

And this is why torture is the core issue — perhaps the only real issue — in the presidential campaign. Iraq is not really an issue; whoever wins, the war will go on, in one form or another. Even under the so-called withdrawal plans of the "progressive" candidates, Americans will be killing and dying in Iraq for years to come. As for the economy, by their own admission none of the presidential aspirants will do anything more than tinker around the edges of the present rapacious system — an unholy marriage of crony capitalism and corporate socialism that has devastated America’s communities, left millions with harsher, diminished lives, corrupted civic society and degraded and homogenized American culture. For the elite factions that thrive on war profits and the brutal economic structure, none of the candidates represents a serious enough threat for any action — beyond the usual lying, sabotage, vote-rigging and media manipulation to get their favorite into power, of course.

But torture is a different matter. Consider how many very powerful people — and hundreds of their minions — face very serious charges if the next president decides to apply the law. Will they really allow this to happen? Or even risk allowing this to happen?

Right now, the torturers control the military and the security apparatus, including many secret forces and units that we know little or nothing about. They have already used these assets to launch a war of aggression, to instigate a system of torture, to spy without restraint on the American people, and to imprison anyone in the world they claim is a terrorist. Why should we imagine that they will draw the line at using these assets to save themselves from prison — or the poison needle?

It would seem then that the Bush Administration has only two choices: cut a deal with the candidates on torture — or eliminate them from the race, one way or another. It goes without saying that John McCain will do nothing but revel in the authoritarian powers brought into the open by Bush; certainly it is inconceivable that he would ever prosecute the instigators of the Bush torture regime. Thus the focus here falls on the winner of the Democratic nomination.

It is Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton who will have to come to terms with the Bush team on torture. (If they have not already done so, that is. ) In the most benign scenario for these negotiations, perhaps some small fry will be offered up as a PR sop for the victor. Just as Scooter Libby took the fall for Karl Rove (in another obvious backroom deal), we might see John Yoo or that despised putz-for-all-seasons, Doug Feith, put on trial, while Bush, Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and the other "principals" go free.

But it is much more likely that any acknowledgement of criminality will be unacceptable to the torturers. It would establish a principle — or rather, re-establish a principle — that would forever leave them open to future prosecution.

So again, we come down to a stark choice for the Democratic candidate: either agree to "move on" from "bitter partisan rancor" over "enhanced interrogation techniques" — or else. There are of course several ways to eliminate someone from public life; the tools have been refined somewhat since the days when "lone gunmen" stalked the land, removing inconvenient figures.

But given the proven nature of the Bush team — and the dire consequences they face from any normal, rightful application of the law — we should assume that they will do whatever it takes to escape those consequences.

And that’s why torture is the decisive issue of this campaign. But this decision will not be in the hands of the voters; it will be made — as most of the decisions that govern our lives are made — in the inner sanctums of elite power.

CHRIS FLOYD is an American journalist and frequent contributor to CounterPunch. He is the author of the book Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium. He can be reached through his webistie: www.chris-floyd.com.



November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate