Torture and America

When will America be cleansed of its fascistic rot? Never, because its institutional core not only protects but generates this rot. The rot? Today, revelations of torture, but torture is merely the excremental if not also logical product of a structural-historical nightmare long in the making. It would be fashionable to pin the blame on capitalism, but this is capitalism in extremis, capitalism beyond its recognizable path of imperialism, alienation, workers’ exploitation, and widening class differentiation in wealth and power. Structural-economic concentration does not reach at some stage a magical tipping point, a qualitative shift to full-blown fascist social organization, tempting as such analysis may be in light of the German and Italian experience of business monopolization and the regimentation of the labor force preparatory to nationalistic expansion. For the US, that already goes without saying. No-one has twisted America’s arm, however, to assume a global counterrevolutionary role under democratic guise. Its democracy is an ideological front, not for commercial penetration or control over the international financial system alone—although that too has occurred—the former under the Open Door of the late 19th century to the present, the latter since World War II as architect and leading member of the IMF and World Bank—but for a self-justifying, never sated, desire for world supremacy as insurance policy for not sinking backward into the morass of everyday humane relations, transcending class and race, at home, and the autarkic spirit of contemptuous unilateralism, at the expense of international organization, abroad.

Here is a Torture Report, very late in coming, lacerated beyond credulity, in which the injured parties are not the detainees—what, 119, when even in the last two decades the rubble of American bombing in the world has buried a thousand times that number, while Special Ops forces have conducted their own parallel campaign of torture—but the CIA itself and the US political leadership which has smothered it with affection. Lift the redactions, and you still do not get the story, torture as SYSTEMIC to America’s global conduct and ambitions. The report, as written, ironically results in the exoneration of the (war) criminals, rather than leading to their prosecution. But how can a nation prosecute two presidents, a big chunk of the Pentagon, the disseminators of government propaganda in the media, including the press, service members in the field and their psychologist-counterparts who appear to relish squeezing the life out of fellow human beings or delivering excruciating pain to them, or waken the larger populace to the enormity of the crimes committed in their name?

Torture reveal America as a total package of hate, fearful of getting caught with its fingers in the cookie jar; if not, why the quick sleight-of-hand switch from the deeds to whether they were effective, in which case everything is okay. NBC, CBS, more attention to the supposed rebuttal than to the report itself, a gratuitous admission of “some mistakes,” but the most brazen denial seen since Nuremburg. Tenet, Bush, Cheney, Hayden, Brennan, all virtue incarnate, yet the report stops at the water’s edge, Obama, his military and intelligence communities, his refusal to prosecute his predecessors (yeah, we did some dumb things), his assurances that rendition, etc., have stopped, his still-rampaging foreign intervention, enough to make P.T. Barnum admit defeat in selling bunkum and run for cover.

What then has perverted capitalism in America to make it outshine and outdistance its already baser self as a political economy? I wish I knew. Marx is an important guide, up to a point—but this cancerous disdain for humanity, this de-valuing of human life, this easy slipping into the use of massive lethal force at the slightest provocation, or none at all, suggest a groundswell of inner destructiveness, a striking out at The Enemy, a morbidity of discontent, all perhaps in the dark realization that democracy requires an unacceptable standard of respect, equality, commonality of perseverance in making it work, that has no relation to the reality of what America has become. Racism, ingrained as ever. Fear, pervasive, nagging, readily manipulated, like the Damoclean sword hanging over us, in the form always of warnings coming out of Congress, the media, the defense lobbyists, the White House—counterterrorism the latest glue holding society together. Citizenship = solidarity = conformity = regimentation = massive surveillance. The chain of self-imposed “soft” repression is without end.


Three little words—enhanced interrogation techniques—worthy of the slickest advertising firm, were there not already experts in deceit in government itself, transform the fiction of a Mel Brooks-like movie on the Inquisition into the reality of a government authorized institutionalization of sadism, lost in the fastness of the long-mobilized National Security State, where friendly legal opinion from the Department of Justice to CIA legal staff to complicit legal opinion in other agencies in a widely ramifying network (of course supported by members of leading law faculties) give prior authorization for the legality of torture in its most brutal forms. We were only doing what the law said we could, the popular refrain before the report and repeated on its release and after. The Law is a mere convenience working to opposite effect, if anything, goading to blatant illegality. Not only were detainees tortured, America was tortured, there being one difference: the latter was done willingly. And if phrases justifying war crimes was not enough, we learn of CIA active cultivation of the media (hi, Tom Brokaw) to pass on classified information which was tailored to extol illegal practices. CIA, defender of the Homeland, worthy servants of democracy, not, as has been true from its inception, an inner Fifth Column intended to destroy American freedom.

Americans are afraid, as much, though we will not admit it, of our CIA, our FBI, our Military, who might turn on us—the concentration camp, assassination, or just ruined reputations (as under McCarthyism)—as we are of the International Threats we conjure up, ISIL now almost nudging aside Russia and China in the contrived/manufactured public imagination. Sacred cows are devouring our green pastures. The essential bipartisan continuity of public policy, in which Obama is as much a war criminal for refusing to prosecute (as demanded by the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on Torture) the war crimes of our own officials and armed forces, is itself giving way, as seen in Republican criticisms of the report, to a still shriller consensus—still remaining bipartisan—around Patriotic America, the old Nazi “stab-in-the-back” argument turned on any and all who do not toe the mark. Absent prosecutions, dissolution of the CIA, a sharp reduction of military spending, America stands before the world for what it is, 21st century fascism sprinkled with liberal glitter to appease a conscience which wouldn’t know the difference.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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