Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)

Summary:  On Friday I said that we would torture again., despite the evidence in the Senate’s report.  This weekend former and current high officials of the US government confirmed that guess. Defenders of torture dispute the evidence, deny that torture was torture, and offer bold affirmations that they would torture again.

For I doubt not but, if it had been a thing contrary to any man’s right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, ‘that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square,’ that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

— Thomas Hobbs in The Leviathan

Shining City Upon a Hill
By Hawk862


The Bush and Obama administrations have put torture into our national DNA.  In the past Americans supporting (or enjoying) torture spoke quietly, least they (rightly) get compared to torturers of the NAZI Gestapo, Soviet KGB, and the many lesser known secret police of 3rd world nations (many of whom learned their craft at the US Special Forces’ School of the Americas).

Now come the propos to convince the American people that this is business as usual, that we’re still an exceptional City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).

So closes the next chapter in America’s fall. We’ll use torture again. Read Republican’s justification of torture. Hear the echos from the past. As so many have said before, Hitler was just early (hence Godwin’s Law). Listen closely — their words justify torture of Americans (when designated as bad guys by the government). That shouldn’t surprise us after so many tools of the war on terror appear on America’s streets. (plus, of course, Obama’s assassination of American citizens).

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

His word salad clearly communicates that our rights mean nothing to him. CNN about Scalia’s interview on December 12 on Swiss National Radio:

The justice who’s been a mainstay of the high court’s conservative wing for 28 years condemned the “self-righteousness of European liberals” who oppose torture “so easily” Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.  “I don’t think it’s so clear at all,” Scalia said. “I think it is very facile for people to say ‘Oh, torture is terrible,'” he said. “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. “You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?”

… “What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they’ve gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are,” Scalia said.

“And therefore each society’s perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it’s very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that.”


Dick Cheney
Banality of evil

Former Vice President Dick Cheney

The “if we do, it’s not torture” standard explained on “Meet the Press“, NBC News, 14 December 2014 — Excerpt from the transcript (he says an astounding number of lies):

DICK CHENEY:  Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true. We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.

…. Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture. …

CHUCK TODD: Let me go through some of those techniques that were used, Majid Khan, was subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. It included two bottles of Ensure, later in the same day Majid Khan’s lunch tray consisting of hummus, pasta, sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused. Does that meet the definition of torture?

DICK CHENEY: That does not meet the definition of what was used in the program …

CHUCK TODD: Let me read you another one here. With Abu Zubaydah, over a 20-day period, aggressive interrogations. Spent a total of 266 hours, 11 days, two hours, in a large coffin-sized confinement box, 29 hours in a small confinement box, width of 21 inches, depth of 2.5 feet, height of 2.5 feet. That’s on page 42.

DICK CHENEY:  I think that was, in fact, one of the approved techniques. … I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. … I’d do it again in a minute.

Update: for detailed rebuttal of Cheney’s defense, see “Dick Cheney’s 6-Step Torture Denial“, Jonathan Chait, New York magazine, 15 December 2014.

Logo of the CIA Director

CIA Director John Brennan

His answer when asked about future use of torture at his December 11 press conference:

And then finally, as far as what happens if, in the future, there is some type of challenge that we face here, the Army Field Manual is the established basis to use for interrogations. We, CIA, are not in the detention program. We are not contemplating at all getting back into the detention program using any of those EITs. So I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to be able to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis.

Obama on Rushmore

President Barack Obama

” I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture.”

— President-elect Barack Obama on CBS “60 Minutes”, 11 November 2008

Obama has as much responsibility as Bush for what we’ve become, as he approved torture by hiring John Brennan as Director of the CIA and refusing to prosecute anyone — except the person who told us about the torture.

The Left has and will continue to pay a large price for electing Obama. Each election brings forth Democrats such as Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman to explain Obama’s greatness, and wonder why he remains so controversial on the Left. They mention his accomplishments, but seem blind to his attack on whistle-blowers, his use of the almost dead-letter Espionage Act, his support for expanding the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, his support for expansive domestic surveillance by the NSA, his pioneering assassination of US citizens without charge or trial, his bailouts and immunity for bankers, and now his granting immunity to government torturers.

Obama has protected and expanded the worst aspects of Bush Jr’s polices, firmly rooting them in the government and our minds. Hope and Change — not. The Left will long remember this betrayal by the Democratic Party (the GOP remains strong because they have better managed the Right).

I have long said (like so many others) that we have bipartisan rule by the 1%, with disagreement mostly on matters of little concern to them (e.g., the don’t care about the recreational or mating habits of the proles). Obama has proved that beyond reasonable doubt, and never so clearly as his protection of Bush Jr’s torturers.

Reform button
Every 2 years


We can whine about this, and pretend it’s not our responsibility. Or these events can motivate us to try again, differently.  See these posts for suggestions.

Posts in this series about the Senate report about torture

  1. The protests start about CIA torture as the echoes die on protests about NSA surveillance. Expect the same result.
  2. Consequences of US torture. And a snapshot of a tottering Republic going through the motions of “debate”.
  3. Close this chapter of America’s use of torture (it’s over). Look ahead to the next chapter.
  4. Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans).

Lincoln on Responsibility

Other posts about torture

  1. Something every American should read, 25 March 2009 — Details about CIA torture programs.
  2. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009.
  3. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009.
  4. The Reverse Nuremberg Defense – “We were just giving orders“, 20 May 2009.
  5. Our government does torture, but it is just like the treatment of young reporters by newspapers, 16 February 2010.
  6. The US government at work, doing dark deeds in our name, 13 March 2010.
  7. Reading about American torturers is a bummer. Let’s close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen, and will not happen again., 22 March 2010.
  8. An expert speaks to us about torture, 5 May 2010.
  9. The long-term consequences to America of torturing Bradley Manning, 15 March 2011.
  10. More symptoms of decay: professional associations abandoning their standards and obligation to protect us, 4 May 2011 — Helpers for torture.
  11. As we finish a dark 2012, what will we see in 2013 of The New America?, 26 December 2012.
  12. Why are we surprised that we supported militia in Iraq, and they used torture?, 12 March 2013.





7 thoughts on “Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)”

  1. Tweaking the title into “Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use by their foes (including on Americans)” makes sense as well.

  2. A story of career success in New America through torture and murder of an innocent man

    The Charmed Life of a CIA Torturer: How Fate Diverged for Matthew Zirbel, aka CIA Officer 1, and Gul Rahman“, Ken silverstein, The Intercept, 15 December 2014 — It’s a must-read to understand the New America growing on the ruins of the America-that-once-was.

    Matthew Zirbel’s home in Great Falls, Virginia is filled with oriental carpets, perhaps collected from his time spent working in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The million dollar home has “LOTS of “WOW!” You will “Oooh & Ahhh”, says this recent description on Zillow.

    This isn’t the first time Zirbel’s surroundings have wowed someone. Over a decade ago, Zirbel, then a junior CIA officer, was in charge of the Salt Pit, a “black site” in Afghanistan referred to in the recent Senate torture report as “Cobalt,” where detainees were routinely brutalized and which one visitor described as a “dungeon.” A delegation from the Federal Bureau of Prisons was “WOW’ed” by the Salt Pit’s sensory deprivation techniques, and a CIA interrogator said that prisoners there “literally looked like [dogs] that had been kenneled,” according to the report.

    In fact, one of the most horrifying stories – and there are many – in the Senate report on torture takes place in the Salt Pit, where Gul Rahman was murdered by the U.S. government in November 2002. …

  3. Scalia’s words are interesting here:
    “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people.”

    How do you respond to or debate a hypothetical like that? I feel like a lot of the rationale for this stance and others like it is based upon situations that haven’t happened yet and depend upon a highly specific set of (debatably?) unlikely future conditions. Can’t this be reduced to a problem of logic?

    1. AK,

      “Hard cases make bad law”, and extraordinary hypotheticals make very bad law.

      These are the weakest of excuses. The actual use of torture in no way resembles a “ticking bomb scenario”, any more than the prisoners were guilty because “caught on a battlefield”.

      This is just a bodyguard of lies to deceive us from seeing how far we’ve left traditional western values behind.

  4. Suppose Dr Evil has his finger on the button, and is ready to unleash his super space “laser”, holding the world ransom by threatening to destroy a major city every hour.
    I think everyone would agree that’s definitely a situation where torture can and should be used to learn the location of his secret moon base.
    So, in the name of protecting America, land of the free and home of the brave, we should use that totally realistic scenario as a basis for our National Torture Policy.
    The Policy will require continued torture of anyone and everyone, including but not limited to your Uncle Jimmie and Aunt Bernadette, for as long as someone somewhere has a “credible belief” of Dr Evil’s malicious intend to take over the world.
    Sounds reasonable, right?

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