Reposted with permission from ChaunceyDeVega.com
In its deranged madness to prevent a second 9/11 attack on “the homeland”, the United States tortured and brutalized suspected “terrorists” with drownings, beatings, forcing food through their anuses, handcuffing people with broken legs to the ceiling, parading them around naked, threatening to sexually assault their mothers and families, exposing them to extreme temperatures, and sensory deprivation.
This is a sterile bullet point-like summary–the irony of that office speak MBA language is fitting and unintentionally macabre and darkly humorous–of the tortures that the CIA will publicly admit to having committed; the real horrors are likely far worse, hiding behind redacted passages and in dark corners, hushed rumors that circulate in the alcohol influenced bar and private conversations of CIA agents and private contractors, never to be publicly admitted to or spoken of.
A willfully ignorant public and a deceptive lying chattering class wrap themselves in American exceptionalism as a means of claiming surprise, shock, and horror at the faux revelations in the CIA torture report. They do this because the truth cannot be reconciled with the myths of an America that never really existed.
America tortures people. It has done this domestically to war resisters, conscience objectors, pacifists, suffragettes, slaves, civil rights workers, and inmates.
The CIA torture report is a damning document and a difficult read. It is child’s fare compared to the tortures inflicted on black people by white folks for centuries in their ritual birthright of American Apartheid and Jim Crow.
A member of the white lynching party that destroyed Mr. Claude Neal in 1934 offers this account of White America’s habit of racial torture on the black body:
“After taking the nigger to the woods about four miles from Greenwood, they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. Then they cut off his testicles and made him eat them and say he liked it. Then they sliced his sides and stomach with knives and every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the nigger to burn him from top to bottom.” From time to time during the torture a rope would be tied around Neal’s neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there until he almost choked to death when he would be let down and the torture begin all over again. After several hours of this unspeakable torture, “they decided just to kill him.”
The United States has tortured people abroad in its wars, secret prisons, and other covert operations. Because the United States has historically been, and remains in the present, a white racist society, it is far easier to torture those who are marked as some type of Other.
Thus, white on black and brown racial violence and torture is far more common than white on white torture.
The United States is also an expert in torture. Its School of the Americas taught soon to be petit-thug dictators and their secret police forces how to torture, intimidate, and terrorize their own people. The hundreds, if not thousands of amateurs in the art of pain would graduate from the School of the Americas as masters, proliferating and spawning many more minions in their own countries, like fruit flies or bacteria, as they “disappeared” and tortured “Communists” in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”.
But ultimately, the United States tortures on both sides of the colorline–perhaps this is one of the few spaces that has been radically democratic and inclusive?
America’s torture machine, and the culture of cruelty that produced it, exist internationally and across the colorline.
Torture is sustained and legitimated by the banality of evil and a numbness to violence and harm done to others as a learned behavior–one taught by violent movies, video games, and conditioned by a neverending “War on Terror” where robots and drones kill from afar with ruthless efficiency.
Consequently, the “War on Terror” is a persistent “state of emergency” that retards and damages a democratic polity and public sphere.
The philosopher and social critic Slavoj Zizek details this process with his usual keen insight:
The paradox is that the state of emergency was the normal state, while ‘normal’ democratic freedom was the briefly enacted exception. This weird regime anticipated some clearly perceptible trends in our liberal-democratic societies in the aftermath of 11 September. Is today’s rhetoric not that of a global emergency in the fight against terrorism, legitimising more and more suspensions of legal and other rights?The ominous aspect of John Ashcroft’s recent claim that ‘terrorists use America’s freedom as a weapon against us’ carries the obvious implication that we should limit our freedom in order to defend ourselves. Such statements from top American officials, especially Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, together with the explosive display of ‘American patriotism’ after 11 September, create the climate for what amounts to a state of emergency, with the occasion it supplies for a potential suspension of rule of law, and the state’s assertion of its sovereignty without ‘excessive’ legal constraints. America is, after all, as President Bush said immediately after 11 September, in a state of war.
The problem is that America is, precisely, not in a state of war, at least not in the conventional sense of the term (for the large majority, daily life goes on, and war remains the exclusive business of state agencies). With the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace thus effectively blurred, we are entering a time in which a state of peace can at the same time be a state of emergency.
The CIA report, and the persistent “state of emergency” that was used to legitimate the crimes detailed therein, exists in the same moral, ethical, and cognitive space, as those white people which are stuck in the White Gaze, and twisted by white racial paranoiac thinking, who can watch the video of Eric Garner being choked to death, and subsequently reason that he is responsible for his own death.
The banality of evil is shown by the spokespeople and defenders of the CIA who are more concerned that wicked (and ineffective) torture was “understandable” in the context of America’s fear of terrorism, and that those personnel who committed such deeds will be “unfairly” persecuted.
Fear as the justification for cruelty and evil is a common defense. It is deployed by both the nation state and individuals. Darren Wilson, the police killers of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and other white authorities retreat as a function of habit and training to this plea of “reasonable” fear (as processed through White racial logic) when they kill unarmed black and brown people.
It is empty and possesses little moral weight. Fear as a defense for wrong-doing is a surrender to cowardice and the most low thinking, practices that are more akin to that of impulsive instinct-driven beasts than human beings who imagine themselves as possessing the highest and most evolved capacity for reason.
Half of the American people have succumbed to the banality of evil and the cultural logic of torture.
A new poll by Pew Research details how:
Amid intense debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, public opinion about this issue remains fairly stable. Currently, nearly half say the use of torture under such circumstances is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.
Here, civil virtue and commonsense have been betrayed by fear mongering and manipulation: the American people are legitimating and rationalizing the very policies (directly through the physical act of torture; culturally through a numbing to poverty, human suffering, and an abandonment of a humane society) that have been and will en masse be turned against them in an era of Austerity and Inverted Totalitarianism.
There are many questions that cannot be asked within the limits of the approved American public discourse.
A basic definition of terrorism is the use of violence and fear to accomplish a political goal.
What if the language of “terrorist” and “torture” were applied to the behavior of the United States government and the American people both at home and abroad? Would the same justification for torture remain?
American exceptionalism–and nationalism more generally–can through arbitrary distinctions of territory, and the various colors of dye on a piece of fabric called a flag, make what is deemed to be wrong in one context legitimate and acceptable in another. The distorting of morality, reason, and ethics through nationalism makes the above questions verboten in American public discourse. This does not mean that such questions ought not to be asked or related scenarios explored.
White racial terrorism against people of color was and remains the norm in American life, society, and culture.
The Ku Klux Klan has been (and likely remains) the largest terrorist organization in the history of the United States.
For centuries, white slave patrollers intimidated, harassed, and killed both black human property as well as free people. American Apartheid, that period from the establishment of America as a slave society in the 17th century, through to the softening of legal white supremacy and the resulting colorblind and institutional systems of white racial advantage in the post civil rights era, use(d) violence–and the threat of violence–to intimidate and control the African-American community.
In the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama, America’s police have continued with their historic mission of maintaining the colorline through committing acts of both interpersonal and institutional terrorism and violence against black and brown people.
The killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and those hundreds and thousands of others (so many dead, which given the lack of police accountability and transparency, may never be fully and publicly known) killed at least once every 28 hours in the United States serve the political goal of maintaining state custodial citizenship, providing human beings for the profits to made by the prison industrial complex, and satisfying the psychological wages of whiteness in the form of “law and order” and a sense of safety and security from black people in a hyper-segregated society.
Torture as public policy by America’s police and prisons has been condemned by groups such as Amnesty International and the United Nations:
The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.
Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
Incidents of torture by the police against black and brown people are many.
In 1997, New York cops tortured Abner Louima, by anally raping him with a broomstick:
One officer, Justin A. Volpe, admitted in court in May 1999 that he had rammed a broken broomstick into Mr. Louima’s rectum and then thrust it in his face. He said he had mistakenly believed that Mr. Louima had punched him in the head during a street brawl outside a nightclub in Flatbush, but he acknowledged that he had also intended to humiliate the handcuffed immigrant. He left the force and was later sentenced to 30 years in prison. The commanders of the 70th Precinct were replaced within days of the assault. As the legal case wore on, Charles Schwarz, a former police officer, was sentenced in federal court in 2002 to five years in prison for perjury stemming from the torture case. A jury found that Mr. Schwarz had lied when he testified that he had not taken Mr. Louima to the station house bathroom where the assault took place.Mr. Louima, who was born in Thomassin, Haiti, in 1966, and immigrated to New York in 1991, suffered a ruptured bladder and colon and spent two months in the hospital. The charges against him were dropped.
Men who say they were tortured by Chicago police into confessing to crimes they did not commit are renewing calls for compensation from the city.They held a news conference Thursday to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance establishing a $20 million fund to torture victims who didn’t qualify for settlements because of the statute of limitations.
More than 100 men have accused former police commander Jon Burge and officers under his command of shocking, suffocating and beating them into giving false confessions. Burge has never been criminally charged with torture.
But he is serving a 4 1/2 -year sentence for lying about the torture in a civil case, and was scheduled to leave prison on Thursday to serve the remainder of his time in a halfway house.
Michael Brown’s body laying in the street for four hours; Eric Garner’s plea for mercy that “I can’t breath!”; the sodomizing of Abner Louima; the tortures that are day-to-day policy in America’s prisons and jails; police brutality and militarization; the beatings, anal force feeding, sensory deprivation, drownings, and other cruelties detailed by the CIA torture report, are part of a broader culture of cruelty where human life is cheapened and debased.
Moreover, the culture of cruelty is international and domestic. On both terrains, it is far easier for the American state and its representatives to torture and render other violence against non-whites. White racial logic deems it acceptable to kill some nebulous brown Muslim “terrorist” Other in the same way that unarmed black men are transformed into “giant negroes” with superhuman strength who are demonically possessed while they supposedly attack white police officers.
If the Pew survey is correct–and half of the American people actually believe that “terrorists” from abroad should be tortured–then philosophical consistency should demand the same treatment for (white) American terrorists at home who harass, kill, or otherwise benefit from institutional and interpersonal white on black and brown violence by police and the state.
Such a suggestion may be met with shock or upset by those who are afraid to ask foundational questions about human decency and the Common Good outside of the comforting blinders of flag-waving nationalism and the panoply of myths which sustain a belief that America is “the best country on Earth”.
Torture is wrong. It is unacceptable when done against “terrorists” or other “enemies of the state” abroad. Torture and terrorism are unacceptable when done by the United States government, police, or other representatives against its black and brown citizens and communities, as well as white folks too.
Moral consistency is the simplest of principles and behaviors; it is also very difficult for many Americans, especially those drunk on American exceptionalism and Right-wing authoritarianism, to comprehend and understand.
This is the failure of national character that made the horrors detailed in the CIA torture report possible.
All Americans of conscience should decry, condemn, and hold accountable the individuals, government behavior, and cruel policies detailed in the CIA torture report. Those same Americans of conscience should demand accountability from the police who kill unarmed and innocent black and brown people.
“Not in my name!” is a slogan and command for America’s broken foreign policies to be corrected.
“Not in my name!” should be shouted (and acted upon) by all of our white brothers and sisters at the police thugs who are engaging in racial terrorism against the black community.
Chauncey DeVega is the editor and founder of We Are Respectable Negroes, as well as the host of the podcast known as “The Chauncey DeVega Show”.