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The First Step is Admitting That It’s Torture

The US Senate’s minimal, partial, heavily redacted summary of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program is out. That report’s reception by establishment media turns out to be at least as demonstrative of the problem it addresses as the report itself.

As any recovering addict will helpfully inform you, the first step is admitting the problem. The US government and American media (and presumably following them, the America public) still resolutely refuse to do that.

In story after story, we see references to “enhanced interrogation” and “brutal interrogation tactics.” Those are weasel words. They’re not admissions of the problem, they’re attempts to talk around the problem.

We’re not talking about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Nor are we discussing “brutal interrogation tactics.” The subject in question is torture.

Torture is clearly defined in US law (18 US Code §2340): “[A]n act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

Torture is clearly defined in international law (the UN Convention Against Torture): “[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

These summations in the laws of states are informative, but we don’t really need them to conclude that the actions described in the report — waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the forced infusion of substances into victims’ rectums, to name three — are torture, all torture and nothing but torture. There exists no reasonable definition of torture that the described actions don’t conform to.

From that primary conclusion we must inevitably draw a secondary conclusion: The persons involved in the torture, from the operators actually implementing it all the way up the chain of command to the president of the United States, are violent, dangerous criminals and would be recognized as such in any sane society, regardless of whether or not codified law existed to describe their offenses.

The question, of course, is what to do about it. “Mainstream” suggestions range from “nothing” to “hold some Senate hearings and hope it goes away” to “appoint a special prosecutor and let him throw some of the less well-connected criminals under the bus so we can get on with life.”

Even at the radical end of the spectrum, suggestions tend to run to things like putting the US under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and conducting a wholesale rendition of the gang, from top to bottom, to the Hague for trial.

The second step in 12-step addiction recovery programs involves recognizing a “higher power.” The second step in any torture recovery program is recognition that the existing temporal “higher power” — the state — is in fact the real problem.

The state bestows extreme power upon its agents, especially over prisoners and detainees. That power corrupts, enabling those agents to abuse and torture, as social psychologists observed in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

The state’s structure also protects its agents from accountability, shrouding discussions of state violence in euphemism, turn the debate from torture as a crime to torture as policy. Furthermore, the state’s monopoly on law leaves prosecution and adjudication up to the state itself. Torturers know they’re unlikely to face justice.

If we tolerate the state, we tolerate torture. It’s time and past time we stopped tolerating either.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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