Friday, December 16, 2005

Klein on torture

Klein's main point in the column I linked to in the repvious post is that the US commission of torure is not a new phenomenon by any means. It has a history, the best example of which is the School of the America's, in which trainees were taught "coercive interrogation techniques" Thus, the claim of shock by many at revelations of torture by the current US government, and shouts of "never again" are problematic in that they deny this history. Nevertheless,

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush administration’s real innovation has been its insourcing, with prisoners now being abused by U.S. citizens in U.S.–run prisons and transported to third-party countries in U.S. planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.

For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practised but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the juridical person in man”; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.

Gulp. That's makes my blood run cold.

The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, past crimes are being erased from the record. Since the U.S. has never had truth commissions, the memory of its complicity in faraway crimes has always been fragile. Now these memories are fading even further, and the disappeared are being disappeared all over again.

This casual amnesia does a disservice not only to the victims but also to the cause of trying to remove torture from the U.S. policy arsenal once and for all. Already there are signs that the administration will deal with the current uproar by returning to the Cold War model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every “individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government”; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators.