Tikkun Magazine, May/June 2007
Why Torture Continues
THE AMERICAN MEDIA HAS LARGELY acquiesced to the Bush Administration's strategy in reporting on the war: if American human rights violations get reported at all, they are quickly forgotten. Yet, the strong efforts by the Bush Administration to retain torture as a standard procedure in dealing with anyone it considers a terrorist or "enemy combatant" indicates a commitment to continue using torture for as long as the government can get away with it.
Torture continues at Guantanamo. It continues to produce suicides, attempted suicides, psychoses, and hunger strikes. Torture continues in dozens of detention centers and prisons throughout Iraq. And torture continues in countless other locations around the world where the United States has subcontracted its torture work to the torture experts of other "intelligence" agencies.
One reason that the current administration refuses to apply the right of habeas corpus to the "war on terror" is that it would then be constricted in its ability to torture.
For some, this is "old news." Abu Ghraib was revealed years ago, and the data on torture has been known for several years. In American society, once a problem has been aired in the media and discussed in Congress, there is a tendency on the part of many citizens to believe that "that issue has been dealt with already." In the case of torture, the opposite is true. The exposure of the problem has had the reverse impact—it has normalized the existence of torture in our national discussion, eliminating the sense of outrage that was the first reaction. In fact, that normalization may be one of the worst consequences of the war in Iraq.
We at Tikkun are all too aware that, when liberal members of Congress vote to continue the war until mid-2008, and do not simultaneously ban all use of torture (in any of the various formulations in which it is sometimes veiled), they are, in fact, allowing torture to continue.
What does one expect of principled people in this situation? That they refuse to cooperate in any way with the torturers, that they demand that the torturers and those who enable the policies of torture be brought to trial for violation of international law, and that international human rights observers be present at every instance of interviewing or information seeking from those suspected of terrorism or participation in acts against the U.S. government. Given the proven history of torture, the burden of proof now rests with the government, not with those who accuse the government. Until it can demonstrate that all of its institutions and collaborators have completely abandoned torture, there must be systematic mechanisms to prevent torture from continuing. Every funding measure sent from Congress for the war—or for any other military, security, or police related expenditure—ought to have provisions against torture. They should also include an absolute ban on the use of any funding to—directly or indirectly—enable the use of physical or psychological torture on those being held by the United States or its surrogates, as well as lengthy jail sentences for anyone in the government who enables this torture.
Torture continues because so many in the media, politics, the intelligence services, and the military, as well as many in the professions of law, psychology, and medicine are enabling it, often for the sake of their jobs. At the same time, we, the citizens, are not raising our voices in outrage sufficient to outweigh the determination of the Bush government, and the cowardliness of our Congress.
2007. Why Torture Continues. Tikkun 22(3): 33.