The Administration Insists the US Government Does Not Torture
And yet it has blocked attempts to assert the illegality of torture—most recently, with president Bush’s veto of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008, on the grounds that it applied the prohibitions against torture in the Army Field Manuel to intelligence agencies. Then, of course, there are the infamous torture memos and the stories of various detainees who have accused the government of torturing them.
Quite disturbing is the newest story, told by Murat Kurnaz, a German who was taken captive in Pakistan at the age of 19 and detained in a war-on-terror prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The FBI, US Intelligence and German Intelligence all believed there was considerable evidence he was innocent, that he knew nothing about Osama or al Qaeda, but, nevertheless, upon falsified evidence and truly ridiculous allegations, he was detained for five years, during which, as he tells it, he was subjected to electric shocks and beaten while his head was submerged, so as to force the inhalation of water. These are nauseating descriptions, and he is not alone in giving such accounts of grotesque abuse.
The government doesn’t torture, it claims, but many of its detainees claim otherwise. Whom should we believe? Well, the government was clearly wrong about detaining them in the first place. In Guantanamo, for example, more than half a decade after being opened, there have only been about a dozen people formally accused and one convicted of a crime, as of November last year. Hundreds have been released—hundreds, all of whom the government once labeled as “the worst of the worst.”
If the administration refuses to accept limits on torture; and has had multiple high officials penning memos asserting the right to torture, even in bad faith, so long as the president orders it; and has gone out of the way to retroactively offer immunity to government torturers, why should we assume it is telling the truth when its detainees accuse it of barbaric interrogation practices?
And barbaric they are. It is truly a tragedy we have come to this crossroads in American imperial life—where torture is denied and yet also defended, rationalized and tolerated by such a large segment of the political culture, including the public.