Torture is More Than Just "Harsh Tactics"

Once again, the issue of torture by US operatives is in the news.  Barack Obama’s administration recently released some classified information from the recent past that details the debates and eventual support for the program of torture undertaken by the CIA, US military and others in the so-called war on terror.  As the reader presumably knows, Mr. Obama has gone on record stating that the Justice department will not prosecute those CIA operatives who were actually involved in interrogations where torture was used, but he has left the door open on prosecutions of those who designed and legitimized the tactics.  According to Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles,

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

Mr. Obama’s decision has essentially negated this principle as far as the actions of US operatives goes.  By doing so, his administration has made itself complicit in the crimes of the Bush administration.

In addition, he is continuing the trend of placing Washington above international law.  Like Tel Aviv, Washington only obeys UN resolutions that it supports and ignores those that are critical of its designs.  Washington also considers its troops and mercenaries essentially immune from international war crimes trials, even passing legislation that insists on the use of US military force to free Americans if they should fall into the hands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.  This putting itself above the law does not only hold true in the international arena but domestically as well.  In a confluence of Tel Aviv’s and Washington’s worst expansionist interests, the Justice Department is considering dropping charges against agents for the Israeli Lobby AIPAC caught spying on the United States.  According to media reports, the subject of reducing the charges was first brought up by a US congresswoman.

But this is not what this piece is really about.  Even more curious than the assumption that those who carried out the orders to torture by actually torturing prisoners in US custody is the conversation in the US mainstream media in the wake of the Justice Department’s release of the memos and other documents regarding that torture.  To begin with, essentially no major newspaper has used the term “torture” to describe the tactics in question.  Instead, euphemisms like “harsh tactics” and “extreme interrogation techniques” are used to describe the acts of the torturers.  If the word torture is mentioned, it is in a context that goes something like this:  these harsh tactics, which some consider to be torture….  In other words, only those that have questionable motives would dare to call US servicemen and agents torturers.  Furthermore, continues this argument, maybe the worse thing these agents and servicemen did was accidentally hurt someone to save our nation from some bad guys.

Even beyond this type of enabling the torturers, most recently the New York Times ran an analysis article titled “At Core of Detainee Fight: Did Methods Stop Attacks?”  In essence, the piece discusses whether or not the tactics the Times euphemistically calls “harsh” were effective in halting attacks by Al-Queda.  Besides the fact that nobody can honestly provide any definitive answer to this discussion, what the article really does is move the discussion about torture away from the ethical issues involved to one of its efficacy.  This is the ground where the torturers and their apologists prefer the debate to reside.  As long as the debate is one that does not include morality, the torturers can justify their tactics by claiming that they did what they were supposed to do–prevent attacks.  Even though such a debate is essentially meaningless, neither those for torture or against it can prove its effectiveness or ineffectiveness, so the torturers remain on equal footing with those opposed to torture.

What the news media is doing by providing a forum for this discussion about the supposed usefulness of torture is nothing less than providing a legitimate basis for the torturers to get away with serious crimes that would appall most US citizens if they were being committed by a foreign agent on US citizens.  The debate around the systematic torture of prisoners in US custody by the CIA and  others acting in Washington’s interest should not be about the efficacy of such tactics.  Nor should it be about their legality, since they are clearly illegal.  Indeed, the debate should not even be about the morality of such tactics, since a nation that (however mistakenly) perceives itself to be a moral beacon for the world should have no doubt that torture is immoral.  No, the only debate regarding the torture of detainees undertaken by the previous administration and its agents should be which members of that administration should be indicted for the crimes they committed in the establishment and undertaking of the torture regime.

Mr. Holder and the Justice Department he runs should not hesitate to put all of those responsible for these crimes in the docket.  Nor should he be afraid to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, no matter what.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South