January 31, 2006
A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the
War on Terror (Hardcover)
Most Americans probably don't relish reading a book about the history of how our nation abandoned its noble ideals and joined the ranks of the torturers, but remember this is OUR country -- and we ARE torturing people.
"A Question of Torture" makes the logical argument that this didn't all happen overnight. The infrastructure, training, and experimentation in torture have been developed by the CIA for over 50 years. After all, under Reagan -- and the ongoing School of the Americas (whose name has now been changed for PR purposes) -- we trained a generation of torturers in Latin America.
The Bush Administration, one could argue, just went public with torture and authorized it as a national policy -- and then alternately lobbied to continue torturing and claiming that it didn't engage in torture. Well, Orwell would be proud, but the body bags and photos are just the tip of the iceberg in revealing the Bush-Cheney gulag of betraying our nation's civilized standards.
Alfred W. McCoy, Author of "A Question of Torture" and a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, not only establishes the historic development of government sanctioned torture, but he is most concerned about how it diminishes the standards of our nation.
Moreover, McCoy makes a strong case that torture rarely is effective. It is like looking for a needle in haystack. Selective torture inevitably leads to mass torture, as we saw in Chile and Argentina during the "dirty wars." Furthermore, McCoy points out that then mass torture leads to extra-judicial killings.
As we have seen, the Bush crew is worried about the cost of long-term imprisonment of terrorist suspects who are no longer of any potential intelligence value. It was just such a situation that led the French to practice summary execution during their anti-terror campaign at the time of the Algerian war for independence. According to McCoy, the CIA Phoenix program in Vietnam produced over 20,000 extra-judicial killings." McCoy notes, "the logical corollary to state-sanctioned torture is state-sanctioned murder."
Indeed, we know that this gruesome continuum has already occurred at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and likely at other sites in the Bush gulag of torture.
If we adopt the barbaric practices of terrorists, they have already beaten us. Because when we adopt torture as a national policy, we have become what we have beheld. We have lost all pretense of moral superiority -- and the line between good and evil becomes blurred beyond all recognition.
Recently, Bush reluctantly signed an anti-torture bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress. But he used one of his "unitary executive" interpretation statements to indicate that he would bypass the law if he felt like it. (The tactic of using presidential signing statements to circumvent laws passed by Congress was a strategy formulated by Sam Alito during his service in the Reagan Administration.)
"A Question of Torture" is one of a laudable number of books that Henry Holt and Company publishers are issuing in a series that is called "The American Empire Project." Holt is to be commended for its contribution to public discourse about our nation's direction from impassioned, thoughtful authors who reflect upon our imperial ambitions.
"Author explores CIA connections to torture tactics," Barbara Wolff, University of Wisconsin, January 9, 2006