Torture Is Exactly Who We Are

I could not read the names without weeping—a list of the tortured detainees. I stared at each name, lingering, imagining, feeling. I thought of the euphemism, enhanced interrogation, like collateral damage, a manipulation of words to mitigate the depravity by making the unacceptable sound less repugnant.

Torture by any other name is still torture.

Defending the CIA’s violations, former CIA Director Michael Hayden said this really wasn’t legally torture, but “we knew as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings.” Really? Did they, the supporters of state-sponsored horror, consider, even for a second, that the detainees were human beings?

Barack Obama said that post-9/11 torture is contrary to who we are. He’s wrong. It is exactly who we are.

Dick Cheney said the torture was “absolutely, totally justified,” dismissing allegations that the CIA withheld information from the White House. The torture program was Bush and Cheney’s new toy, and they were spectators to pain.

Bush defended the CIA: “They are good people. These are patriots.”

“It’s incumbent upon a democracy in terms of our values that we represent to the world that when we have bad moments, we hold ourselves accountable,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill.

This was not a mere “bad moment”, a minor misjudgment. It was calculated, designed, and approved by top officials.

Sen. Diane Feinstein said she hoped the public would view the report in the “spirit of a just society [that] functions under law, and that when we make mistakes we admit them, we correct them, and we move on.” Feinstein continued: “I think that’s an important thing.”

Does Feinstein really believe our society is “just” and “functions under law”? How could she? But therein lies the huge obstacle towards justice. Her saying that admitting mistakes allows us to “move on” is the babble of someone who’s read the jacket of a self-help book, unless “correct them” means holding them responsible in a court of law—exactly what she opposes, since too many of her cronies are complicit.

The Bush/Cheney administration’s chamber of horrors is an extension of the greed, opportunism, and violence that pervade our system. Yielding nothing in terms of intelligence and security and, in fact, counterproductive, it was sport for officials at the top of that particular food chain. Even if it had provided information, it still would be wrong, illegal, morally reprehensible.

Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, the two psychologists who formed a business and developed the theories of interrogation based on “learned helplessness,” are former military officers. They were paid $80 million for their vision. Arrest them.

Arrest them all. Hold criminally accountable the Bush/Cheney administration, the people who sanctioned torture, the participants, and those who stood by with silent approval.

Further, when anyone argues that the release of the report hurts American interests or America’s reputation, we must conclude that fear and denial have descended. Even though the hideous torture techniques were no secret. For instance, Lindsay Graham, easily aroused by war rhetoric, said, “Don’t release it now because the world is on fire.” I thought he liked the flames, conflagrations ignited and fanned by the USA. Graham’s concern must be the possibility of repercussions, a stained legacy.

While ignoring abuses within our own borders, the US accuses other countries of human rights violations using these as a pretext for invasion or regime change. We pretend to spread democracy without nurturing it at home. Exceptional doesn’t describe us. Those who believe in American exceptionalism are the men and women in positions of influence who wear a flag pin and the flag-waving, my-country-never-wrong nationalists who scream “USA! USA! USA!” in a crass display of arrogance. As fascism kudzu vines our lives.

Torture defines us. Torture is a Kill List. Torture is a drone. Torture is war. Torture is incinerating men, women, and children to obtain coveted resources. Torture is turning other countries into wastelands with weapons that remain in the water, the soil, air, the DNA.

Torture is sending our young to die for lies, a uniform embellished with ribbons and metal medals, a Purple Heart, broken hearts, burial in a national cemetery. Torture is the loved one who returns from war a double or quadruple amputee, with PTSD, with a traumatic brain injury.

Torture is so far away we don’t know the dead, the maimed, their names. But torture is also nearby, where we do: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Darrien Hunt, Michael Brown, so many more. Torture is the growing number of homeless children, hungry children.

Torture is a militarized police force, organized to enervate, to mute us, to render us voiceless when conscienceless minds conceive and perpetrate egregious acts that are committed in our names.

Torture is exactly who we are—unless we prove otherwise. We can’t just demand justice though. We also must follow it to completion, prosecute the criminals, end war, close our military bases. This includes the wars in our own neighborhoods, towns, and cities, anything that separates us from our humanity.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

More articles by:

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us