Aug 16, 2014
Falguni A. Sheth

Here’s why I’ll never have mercy on torturers — no matter what any of our presidents might say

Obama Guantanamo Bay

About a week ago, for the first time ever, the U.S. government, through the comments of its chief executive no less, confirmed that “folks were tortured.” Simultaneously, he observed that there ”was little need for sanctimony” given the heightened fears of the American public in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the enormous pressure that law enforcement officials were under to prevent future attacks.

The president’s official confirmation that “folks” were tortured and not just undergoing “enhanced interrogation techniques” was remarkable. His words were striking not so much because the public learned something new, but because they should have ramifications for those who designed, justified and endorsed torture as part the U.S.’s national security strategy to combat terrorism.

For those who provide the legal cover for torture, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, there might be some fear that an official U.S. confirmation of torture will have ramifications for them. But they claim not to be afraid of prosecution. Given the soothing, exculpatory tone of the president’s remarks and Attorney General Eric Holder’s lapdoggish compliance, (despite his resolute acknowledgment in 2009 that waterboarding is torture), they have every reason to believe it.

Yet, his remarks are notably deceptive on a number of fronts. The president’s remarks suggest that torture was an accidental practice, one deployed under pressure and randomly, rather than in the way that we understand now, as intentional and systematic. In fact, we have had official confirmation of torture since at least 2004, when pictures revealed the abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. We also know that the plan to engage in torture was not the result of passion and mere patriotism. Rather, it was part of a series of policies that were designed to evade the charge of torture. These plans were carried out systematically by the CIA staff under the instruction and endorsement of high-level Bush administration officials (despite their denials). The CIA had the approval, the endorsement and the “legal” architecture of a policy to conduct intentional, deliberate, systematic torture of enemy combatants.

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