NI: You opposed the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other ongoing conflicts in East Asia as well. We saw how torture occurred in those wars. Perhaps the most high profile and visible case of torture in recent years was the public execution of Muammar Gaddafi. Torture has become a norm, regardless of the victim's guilt or innocence. There are numerous international conventions against torture but torture still exists in many places. What are your feelings about this? Why are events moving in that direction?
PCR: In the 20th century, the West, which was hardly innocent, nevertheless stood for civil liberty, for law as a shield of the people instead of a weapon in the hands of the government. In Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, law was a weapon in the hands of the government. Today the US has caught up with Hitler and Stalin. Law in the US is a weapon in the hands of the government.
In my opinion, neoconservative triumphalism has destroyed American morality and left hubris in its place. Americans are overwhelmed by how great and good and moral and indispensable they are. American hubris raises Americans above everyone else in the world. Americans can torture, murder, invade, and still lecture the rest of the world about human rights.
NI: In one of your pieces published last April, you pointed out, "I agree that there is a lot of evil in every country and civilization. In the struggle between good and evil, religion has at times been on the side of evil. However, the notion of moral progress cannot so easily be thrown out." As you say, in many countries liberty was lost, though the notion of moral progress cannot be easily thrown out. Can you explain more about this interesting conclusion?
PCR: I don't know enough about the nonwestern world to answer this question with confidence. The point I was making is that the struggle between good and evil is ancient. In various historical periods evil prevails; in other periods good prevails. This means that moral concepts survive even during the periods of the prevalence of evil. As I have written, not far into the past, slavery was a fact of life, not a moral issue. Today, even the worst government would not openly legitimize slavery, although tax slavery, except for the mega-rich who control the governments, exists everywhere in the West.
The point is that we cannot give up hope that the world can be returned to a moral existence. What is discouraging is that it is no longer the West, and certainly not the US government, that is the upholder of "the rights of mankind."
NI: How can we change for the better? Where should it start if we are to achieve a torture free society?
PCR. In my opinion, there is no prospect for a moral and torture-free world until the West is held accountable for its crimes. The war crimes tribunal in Malaysia was a beginning. The convictions of the Bush regime monsters have no legal authority, but the convictions assert morality authority. If the Malaysian war crimes tribunal is repeated in many other countries, the US and UK war criminals and their NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) puppet criminals would not be able to travel beyond their own borders. The image would be created of Western leaders hunted by the rest of the world for their criminal actions. This is the only way to re-empower morality as a force in history.
Western governments have become the antithesis of morality.