2014: Is torture ever morally permissible? “Torture is Mainstream Now”

In a penetrating, comprehensively referenced article on the Washington Blog, David Swanson removes the blinders that have misled most media commentators from seeing clearly that the torture, extraordinary renditions and assassination policies have not only not disappeared; they have actually accelerated under the Obama administration:

 “Fifteen years ago, it was possible to pretend the U.S. government opposed torture.  Then it became widely known that the government tortured.  And it was believed (with whatever accuracy) that officials had tried to keep the torturing secret.  Next it became clear that nobody would be punished, that in fact top officials responsible for torture would be permitted to openly defend what they had done as good and noble.”

“Bush administration-era policies” are acknowledged to be ongoing, and yet somehow they retain the name “Bush administration-era policies,” and discussion of their possible prosecution in a court of law does not consider the control that the current chief perpetrator has over law enforcement and his obvious preference not to see a predecessor prosecuted for something he’s doing.” (David Swanson. Torture is Mainstream Now, Washington Blog, April, 2014)

He notes that,

“In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had “banned torture” by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the “banning”) Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama’s continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney’s) authorization of torture.”

He has a point. In Feb. the Wall Street Journal reported that CIA Signals Continuity With Bush Era.
“Mr. Obama moved quickly to set a date for shutting down the Guantanamo Bay prison and to close the CIA’s detention network, but the changes to spy operations appear to be on the margins.” The WSJ reported that CIA Director, Leon Panetta indicated that the President can still use his wartime powers to authorize harsher interrogation techniques…He further stated that he believes:

“the CIA can be effective if it limits itself to the 19 techniques the military is allowed to use. He said the administration is evaluating the effectiveness of so-called enhanced interrogation tactics such as waterboarding and will make recommendations to the president on what techniques should be allowed. In the interim, only the 19 techniques will be used.”

In an interview with Chris Mathews “David Axelrod, White House Senior Adviser, refused repeatedly (on camera) to dispute Cheney’s assertion — which was also supported by Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. The New York Times reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries.  The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions, but kept them in place. It announced a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment, but kept it in place. The Obama administration formalized the old policy and mainstreamed it. (Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti. U.S. Relies More on Aid of Allies in Terror Cases, May 2009)

“As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation.  It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight.  The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure.  And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice.  While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).”

“The mainstreaming of torture in U.S. policy and entertainment has stimulated a burst of torture use around the globe, even as the U.S. State Department has never stopped claiming to oppose torture when it’s engaged in by anyone other than the U.S. government.  If “Bush-era policies” is taken to refer to public relations policies, then there really is something to discuss.  The U.S. government tortured before, during, and after Bush and Cheney ran the show.  But it was during those years that people talked about it, and it is with regard to those years that people still talk about it.” (David Swanson. Torture is Mainstream Now, Washington Blog, April, 2014)