‘Good people’ don’t torture

Only monsters torture others. Americans are 'good people.' They are not monsters. Therefore Americans "don't torture," as President Bush made clear. Yet the historical record is now plain and unassailable: America did use torture as an interrogation-disciplinary technique. Moreover, as Frank Rich points out,

…we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government's highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to "24"; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.


Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to "protect" us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from "another 9/11," torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House's illegality.

Briefly put, the United States committed crimes against humanity (torture) in order to justify one fundamental war crime (the Iraq invasion) it committed in pursuit of its imperial ends. It did not commit these crimes against humanity in defense of the Republic or American democratic institutions, such as they are. They were not acts of self-defense. Rather they were just one specific tactic used to achieve imperial ends.

But are common Americans guilty of this crime? Yes they are, in some indistinct measure. They acquire their guilt because this criminal enterprise was put into effect by a democratic government; by definition the citizens of a democratic country are implicated in the crimes committed by their government since they have the institution powers needed to install the government that committed the crimes and the powers required to remove it before or after it commits the crimes.

Phillip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram, Martin Niemöller and Hannah Arendt would not find this possibility — that normal folk commit or are complicit with these kinds of crimes — surprising. Neither malice nor indifference to suffering are uncommon properties among human beings. They are universally distributed.

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