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Damn the Tapes, It's Time to Sing the Chorus "We Won't Live in a Torture State"

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Damn the Tapes, It’s Time to Sing the Chorus “We Won’t Live in a Torture State” Jill McLaughlin, World Can’t Wait Steering Committee. 

So there has been a lot of hullabaloo about the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes. There is speculation and prediction. It’s another one of those moments, as in many moments of the past seven years that it appears that Congress can say to the Bush Administration “gotcha”. But sadly and strangely these moments pile up and are swept away through the media (CNN) posing absurd questions to viewers like “is water boarding torture?” and the Democrat-led Congress backing off with their investigations most likely because of their own complicity and collusion in this…consider Nancy Pelosi. She’s known of these tapes for quite some time. (no wonder impeachment is off the table). 

I don’t want to dismiss or underestimate the fact that this has been an ongoing story in the media--it has put torture in the spotlight—but the problem is how it is being posed to the people. It gets whittled down to legal terms, i.e. was it wrong that the tapes were destroyed? Or how many crimes did they commit, if any, in destroying these tapes? As long as it’s focused on the destruction of the tapes and not really on the torture committed on those tapes then it is easy for the issue that torture is wrong to disappear entirely. Especially if the destruction by the CIA is deemed legal or the investigation of this goes cold.  Under these terms torture becomes an acceptable norm to the people, even if in their heart of hearts they think it abhorrent.

To add emphasis as to why it is important how the issue of torture is talked about, I’d like to give an illustration. Over a year ago I received a form letter in email from Barack Obama in response to my inquiry on whether the Military Commissions Act (with its rather broad definition of “enemy combatant”) meant that protesters against the war could be deemed “enemy combatants” at Bush’s whim and detained and tortured. In his response the Senator called the passing of the MCA a political tactic of Bush and the Republicans. And never once was the word “torture” ever mentioned in Senator Obama’s response. He doesn’t even mention it in his campaign for President unless it rears its head in the media. Same goes for Hillary. The leading Republican candidates want more torture.

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Nobody talks about the thousands who were swept up, detained, and tortured without ever being charged, or people who had the misfortune of being the object of a neighbor’s vendetta or a neighbor’s greed for reward money, the misfortune of having the same name as a suspected terrorist, or the misfortune of living in countries that were illegally and immorally invaded and now occupied.

Torture is not a political tactic. Torture is not a partisan issue. Torture is a moral issue. Torture is a war crime. Torture is a crime against humanity. Torture is wrong. 

We also need to look at the hypocrisy surrounding these tapes. Former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, (D-CA) Rep. Jane Harmon, calls the destruction of the tapes a constitutional crisis. Yet she was given a classified briefing on those tapes and what they contained. She had knowledge of torture. What did she do? She said she found it disturbing and wrote a letter advising that the tapes not be destroyed and then said nothing. Her excuse is that her letter was classified and she couldn’t bring the existence of the tapes to light. Also when pressed about the interrogation methods used in these tapes, she replied that her memory was fuzzy.  I don’t know about you, but if I was briefed on the methods used to torture someone and thought it disturbing I’d find it hard to forget.

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But again, this is the same woman who lent her ear to Brian Michael Jenkins from the Rand Corporation who identifies as a counter-terrorism expert. Jenkins suggested that there needed to be a center for studying violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. So she came up with this nifty bill called the Violent Radicalization and Home Grown Terrorism Prevention Act which passed in the House and is sitting in the Senate.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) highlights the precariously broad definitions of what constitutes as a violent radical group or home grown terrorist group in this bill on its website. Imagine if reactionaries started targeting war protesters and those who engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience. The CCR website quotes Jenkins from his book “In their international campaign, the jihadists will seek common grounds with leftist, anti-American, and anti-globalization forces, who will in turn see, in radical Islam, comrades against a mutual foe.”  

Harmon sees the destruction of these tapes as a constitutional crisis, yet can’t see that this bill lends itself to the possible detention and torture of innocent people here. Maybe you think the possibility of torture here or on a U.S. citizen is impossible. But the fact of the matter is U.S. citizens have been tortured. Jose Padilla was detained and tortured here in the U.S. on suspicion that he had ties with terrorists and was planning on making a “dirty bomb”. One of the informants that the government relied on to make their case recanted the story he gave and the other was an active drug addict. Yet after being held 3 and1/2 years without being charged the government found Padilla guilty. It is said that he is so mentally and emotionally ruined that he is now just a shell.  

Navy veteran Donald Vance went to Iraq as a private contractor, and blew the whistle on illegal arms trading he observed as security supervisor for Shield Security Group. After initially reporting it to the FBI, they in turn asked him to spy for them. A short while later he found himself detained at Camp Cropper by the U.S., and tortured for 100 days for the very thing he blew the whistle about. Speculation is that Vance was detained as a cover for those higher up who may have been culpable in the illegal arms trading.

Both these cases made it into the mainstream media, but like Harmon, the media seems to have a fuzzy memory and these stories are not covered anymore. And it is almost as if through telepathy this fuzziness burrows its way into the psyche of the American people.  Let me then attempt to clear away the fog for you. Remember Abu Ghraib and how outraged you were about the torture that occurred there.  Remember how you thought that this was the “gotcha” moment and remember how it got swept away when it was apparent that no one in the Bush Regime was going to be held accountable for it. And Guantanamo Bay is still open and people are still being tortured there. The CIA is still conducting renditions of people to black sites where they are surely being tortured. We have been and are living in a torture state six years after Guantanamo Bay’s opening and two years after the news broke about Abu Ghraib, a year after the Military Commissions Act, a year after George Bush admitted that people were rendered to black sites, and just weeks after the leak about the CIA tapes.

I wonder if the inability or perhaps more correctly the unwillingness of those in a position of power to hold their counterparts accountable for their crimes has shocked you into a fugue state.  Or maybe it isn’t that you have forgotten, but the very fact that our elected officials and mainstream media are doing nothing to stop this that has silenced you and left you thinking that it’s just best to move on. After all you voted. You signed a petition. You wrote and called your representative and senator. And with bitter disappointment you see that nothing has changed. So you are sure that with all that you have done that I’m just preaching to the choir.

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But here’s the thing; the choir isn’t being heard or seen. The reason for this is that the choir is still confining itself to the church of “politics as usual” and the politics of the possible. We’ve been shown time and again that our politicians and media cannot be relied upon to talk about the issue of torture in any real or meaningful way or to stop the horror of torture. It matters little what party our next president is affiliated with. Our outrage and heartache over what it is happening and being done in our name matters little to those in power.  It’s time to ask the question, how much does our outrage and heartache matter to us?

What are we the people of this country willing to do to keep the fact that torture is being committed in the spotlight? It is up to us now that we keep it in the light and that we talk about it with family, friends, co-workers, ministers, rabbis, imams, teachers, and students. The revelation of the CIA tapes presents all of us with an opportunity. We must not let the politicians and the media set the terms of how the issue of torture is addressed.  As long as the discourse is confined to the legality of the destruction of tapes or what may or may not be torture, the discourse will surely, like so many poor souls, be silenced and disappeared into the dark.

It is time for the choir to sing to and for one another! The chorus must be “We will not live in a torture state! We will not accept torture anywhere in our name!” There must be mass sentiment and mass resistance to the use of torture from the people.  

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Jill McLaughlin is an activist/organizer with the World Can't Wait. She currently sits on the national steering committee of World Can't Wait and has been an active activist/organizer with the Chicago Chapter of World Can't Wait. She has written (more...)

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