FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Torture is Trivial

by ROBERT JENSEN

The great American torture debate has been rekindled by the nationwide release of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the hot new movie about the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But all the fussing over whether or not the movie condones, glorifies, and/or misrepresents torture is trivial, because the United States’ use of torture after 9/11 is trivial in the context of larger U.S. crimes.
Let me be clear: I don’t support torture. I think torture is immoral. I think government officials who ordered or condoned torture should be held accountable. Torture crosses a line that should not be crossed.
But when I look at the decade since 9/11, torture is hardly the greatest crime of the U.S. war machine. Since 9/11, the United States has helped destroy two countries with, at best, sketchy moral and legal justification. The invasion of Afghanistan was connected to the crimes of 9/11, at least at first, but quickly devolved into a nonsensical occupation. The invasion of Iraq, which was clearly illegal, was a scandal of unprecedented scale, even by the standards of past U.S. invasions and covert operations.
While the Iraq war is over (sort of) and the Afghanistan war is coming to an end (sort of) the United States is also at war in Pakistan and Iran. The U.S. routinely unleashes murderous drone strikes in Pakistani territory, and we can assume that covert operations against Iran, such as the cyber-attack with a powerful computer virus, continue even though Iran poses no serious threat to the United States.
All of this was, or is, clearly illegal or of dubious legal status. None of it makes us more secure in the long run. And if one considers human beings who aren’t U.S. citizens to be fully human, there is no moral justification for any of it.
The problem with “Zero Dark Thirty” is that it ignores all of that, as do most of the movies, television shows, and journalism about the past decade. It tells the story that Americans want to hear: We are an innocent nation that has earned its extraordinary wealth fair and square. Now we want nothing more than to protect the fruits of our honest labor while, when possible, extending our superior system to others. Despite our moral virtue and benevolence, there are irrational ideologues around the world who want to kill Americans. This forces our warriors into unpleasant situations dealing with unpleasant people, regrettable but necessary to restore the rightful order.
A less self-indulgent look at the reality of the post-World War II era suggests a different story. Whether in Latin America, southern Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia, the central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been consistent: to make sure that an independent course of development did not succeed anywhere, out of a fear that it might spread to the rest of the developing world and threaten U.S. economic domination. In the Middle East, the specific task has been to make sure that the flow of oil and oil profits continues in a fashion conducive to U.S. interests.
This is not is a defense of terrorism but rather a consistent critique of terrorism, whether committed by nation-states or non-state actors. The solution to the problem is not more terrorism by one side to counter the terrorism of the other. The solution is not torture. At this point, there are no easy and obvious “solutions” available, given the hole into which we’ve dug ourselves.
But there are things we can do that would help create the conditions under which solutions may emerge, ways to support real democracy around the world and a just distribution of resources. The first step is for those with more wealth and power to tell the truth about how that wealth was accumulated and how that power has been used.
The real problem with “Zero Dark Thirty” is not that it takes artistic license with some of the facts about torture. The film’s more profound failure is that by reinforcing the same old story about American innocence, it helps obscure the larger truths we don’t want to face about ourselves.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of  Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail