The torture debate and the normalization of horror
By Ted Rall
A new documentary, Hitlers Hit Parade, runs 76 minutes without narration. Comprised entirely of archival footage, the film prompts its reviewers to remark upon Hannah Arendts famous observation about the banality of evil. German troops subjugated Europe and shoved millions of people into ovens; German civilians went to the movies, attended concerts and gossiped about their neighbors. People lived mundane, normal lives while their government carried out unspeakable monstrosities.
As the U.S. Congress prepared to rubber-stamp the nomination of torture aficionado Alberto Gonzales as the nations chief prosecutor, the Washington Post broke news that would have torn a saner nation apart. The Bush administration, the paper reported Jan. 2, is no longer planning to keep hundreds of Muslim prisoners currently rotting away in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram merely indefinitely. The Defense Department and C.I.A. are now planning a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions for these innocents.
Were locking them up forever. Without due process.
Before gangsters like Alberto Gonzales seduced us into abandoning our values, a person was considered innocent before being proven guilty. Now were locking people away because the government does not have enough evidence to charge [them] in courts. And everyone, including Democrats, is O.K. with this.
Untold thousands of people are being held without charges, tortured and occasionally murdered in the system of gulags hastily strung together by the C.I.A., F.B.I., I.N.S. and Pentagon. According to the government itself, only a few dozen are former Al Qaeda officials. Most of these postmodern misérables were farmers, truck drivers, grunt militiamen and political enemies sold into bondage by Afghan warlords and similarly trustworthy souls for cash bounties on a no-questions-asked basis. We know they have no ties to terrorism, but theyve already spent years getting beaten up. Releasing them would serve as a tacit admission that we were wrong to describe them as in Dick Cheneys words the worst of the worst. They would sue our government, and eventually win. Worst of all, they have unpleasant tales to tell about systemic sodomy and countless other forms of horrific taxpayer-funded abuse. We can never let them out.
Bush plans to divide U.S. concentration camp victims into two groups. One set of lifers will end up in U.S.-run stalags like Gitmos new Camp 6, built to hold 200 detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, according to Defense officials. But not to worry: Camp 6 would allow socializing among inmates. Others captured in the war on terrorism will be outsourced to third countries willing to hold them indefinitely and without proceedings in foreign-run gulags that pledge to make victims available for torture by American interrogators. This practice, some claim, is an effective method of disrupting terrorist cells and persuading detainees to reveal information.
The threat of sending someone to one of these countries [where they are likely to be tortured] is very important, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror.
But the so-called ticking time bomb rationale for torture is patently fallacious. Weve heard the scenario repeatedly: wouldnt it be worth torturing someone who knew the location of a nuclear bomb that was about to destroy Manhattan? The short answer, to a moral person, is obviously no. Moreover, its logic is ludicrous.
Suppose we had captured Osama bin Laden on 9/10 and immediately gone to work on him with our Alberto Gonzales-approved psychotropic drugs and our Alberto Gonzales-approved waterboard dunking technique. It wouldnt take long for Osamas pals to notice that hed failed to show up at the Terrorcave. Theyd assume that we had him and were torturing him. Theyd assume that hed tell us everything he knew. So theyd delay 9/11 to 10/11 or 11/12 or 9/11/02. Or go to Plan B. Or develop a Plan C. No one in an underground organization, not even its top leader, is indispensable. Arrests are inconvenient, not debilitating.
The information a person possesses at the moment of his capture ages like a ripe cheese in hot sun. Even if what he told you at the beginning was true, anything youd get out of him days and weeks and months and years later would be completely worthless.
Wait a minute.
Look at what were talking about. Consider the breezy way we Americans Americans! are debating the pros and cons of torture. Marvel at our moral bankruptcy. The liberal argument against torture used to be that it was wrong. Now its that it doesnt work.