The United States of America Did Torture, Actually

Few Americans realize what cruelties have been inflicted in their name.

The autopsy gave a spare account of how the 52-year-old man died. He suffered blunt force injuries on his torso and legs, and abrasions on his left wrist indicated he had been tied or shackled down. One of his neck bones was fractured. Death came "as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation," and it was ruled a homicide.

USCG photo by Telfair H. Brown, Sr.USCG photo by Telfair H. Brown, Sr.It's too much to hope for justice in this case, though. That's because the homicide came at the hands of the administration of George W. Bush. The victim was an Iraqi whose demise occurred while he was in American custody. He was one of some 100 people who since 2001 have died while our government was holding them, some of whom were tortured to death.

The advocates of "enhanced interrogation" make it sound simple and effective. An uncooperative terrorist gets waterboarded and quickly agrees to spill vital secrets, or gets weary of being cold and sleep-deprived and divulges plots in time to stop them.

Dick Cheney and Co. never dwell on the captives who were subjected to prolonged and escalating brutality that failed to elicit the desired information -- possibly because they didn't have it. Those who favor this approach don't mention the inmates who will never talk because they are in their graves.

Some of the tortured survived the ordeal. But living or dead, they have been consistently ignored by the American people, few of whom realize what cruelties have been inflicted in our name.

The victims were ignored again last week when an independent commission issued a report that said, "Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture." The report was released Tuesday -- as the Boston Marathon bombs were eclipsing all other news.

It deserved far more attention than it got. The panel was not a choir of squeamish liberals and al-Qaida apologists. It included former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who chaired a National Rifle Association task force after the Newtown massacre, William Sessions, who served as FBI director under President George H.W. Bush, and Thomas Pickering, that president's UN ambassador.

The 11 members had no trouble establishing that the Bush-Cheney techniques qualified as torture and "occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters" -- from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay. They found this approach had "no justification."

They determined that Bush and his senior aides "bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques." They found no evidence that torture "produced significant information of value" -- but plenty that much of the information "was not useful or reliable."

As president, Bush insisted he was staying within the white lines. He assured the world, "The United States of America does not torture." His champions say the methods he approved did not qualify for that term.

But you don't have to take the word of the American Civil Liberties Union on what constitutes torture. You can take the word of the Bush administration. In its assessment of foreign governments, the panel noted, the U.S. government "has routinely and firmly condemned as torture and/or abuse many of the same techniques used by U.S. personnel against detainees over the course of the past decade."

It condemned Jordan for subjecting inmates to "forced standing in painful positions for prolonged periods." Waterboarding? A form of torture when used by Sri Lanka and Tunisia. Sleep deprivation? When Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia do it, it's an outrage.

There is no way to prove that in some case at some time, an exercise in sadism might not cause a hardened terrorist to reveal everything. But theoretical payoffs don't excuse practices that the U.S. government has declared off-limits for every other country. Nor can they justify violating the international Convention Against Torture -- signed and celebrated by President Ronald Reagan.

That treaty had a provision especially relevant in the aftermath of 9/11. It said, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Torture, as Reagan understood, is not sometimes wrong. It's always wrong.

Those who pretended otherwise made a choice that inflicted intense suffering and painful death on enemies real and imagined. For Bush, Cheney and their accomplices, that choice should be a lasting disgrace.

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  • Caleb Turberville||

    To be fair, the Boston Bombings also overshadowed last week's controversy surrounding the 2010 Rinehart and Rogoff austerity paper, which Gillespie only just recently referenced at a conference a few weeks ago.

    Since the neo-Keynesian are having a field day (week?) with this, I was kinda hoping we might get a post or two about it from the folks at Reason.

  • John Galt||

    Nope, no such luck on kinda hoping today.

  • Tony||

    Not even the authors of the study have been able to muster a credible excuse. What's reason gonna say about it? Report honestly and objectively? hahahaha

  • forestgombosi39||

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  • zerohour||

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  • John Galt||

    It's Earth Day. Maybe it's time to speculate about whether any more Obama supporters will be blowing up any more Americans today. Seems to make more sense than spending the day rehashing what we all already know.

  • ||

    It sounds like he had a job, but I don't think he had a hat, and he definitely wasn't bringing home the bacon. So the officer should have known.

  • ||

    Ah shit, wrong thread. Well, it makes as much sense here.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    BACON?! Where?

  • Ted S.||

  • WomSom||

    Sounds like a very serious plan dude, I like it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    But the Bushpigs kept lying - "We do not practice torture".

    Shame on America.

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    And the Obamapigs keep yapping about Bush and ignoring The Chosen One when he does the same thing.

    Shame on American for electing a socialist douche-bag and pretending he is different from the previous douche-bag.

  • ||

    Actually, the change in policy of the Bush Administration was that they admitted torture and rewarded its practitioners and apologists whereas previous and subsequent deny torture and punish those whose torturing becomes public knowledge.

  • ||

    ...previous and subsequent administrations...

  • Free Society||

    How noble of this new transparent administration.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "For Bush, Cheney and their accomplices, that choice should be a lasting disgrace."

    And for everyone else in the United States of America, since it is obvious that we as a "civilization" are going to ignore the war crimes of both the Bush and Obama administrations. The Boston bombing make it exceedingly likely that the next administration will have bloody hands as well.

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    And for everyone else in the United States of America,...

    Nope, I had nothing to do with it and actively condemned it. The only people who should be disgraced are the ones who did it and the ones who supported it.

  • sarcasmic||

    Are Obama's policies on the subject any different?

    Oh, silly me. It's not what a person does that matters, it's who the person is that matters.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Obama admin does not torture.

    Low bar for sure.

  • sarcasmic||


  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "The United States of America Did Torture, Actually"


    Bringing one's country to the negative attention of the United States should represent a major catastrophe, so bad that even the most fanatical would think twice, and such that a country's leaders have serious incentives to keep their nut jobs at home.

    But I have no real desire to be an international Boy Scout. Nations do not have morals, they have interests.

    Also, I'm a grouch.

  • Jerryskids||

    Bringing one's country to the negative attention of the United States should represent a major catastrophe, so bad that even the most fanatical would think twice, and such that a country's leaders have serious incentives to keep their nut jobs at home.

    So you are saying that now that has been brought to the attention of the US government that the US government has been doing Very Bad Things, the US government may start kicking the shit out of the US government and make it stop doing bad things? Sweeeet! Let me go get some popcorn. I wanna watch this.

  • Finrod||

    Ditto that.

    People die in police custody, American citizens, all the time. If the author wants to judge what he sees as torture, then he needs to condemn pretty much every police department in the United States. Heck, every police department in the world, for that matter.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Today is the day the Beckerhead will expose Obama's cover-up in the Boston Bombing with "proof" he has that Saudis really did it and Obama framed the two brothers.

    BOMBSHELL! The biggest story of his life!

  • Kurbster||

    don't you mean "the biggest payout of his life?"

    he's making some pretty big bank with the added attention to his SUPER IMPORTANT announcement and milking it with his advertisers

    And the funny part is: Beck's constant lying still doesn't destroy his career...not when you have your average neocon joe believing everything he says as coming from jesus's gay twin brother

  • Jerryskids||

    I'll admit that I haven't been following the story all that closely because frankly I don't think it was all that big of a deal (imagine that the bomb had gone off during the Centerville, Kansas Spring Festival Parade and try to imagine what the press coverage and public reaction would have been like) but I think the mother has said that her sons were working with the FBI and that the whole thing was a FBI set-up.

    Given what I've read about how the FBI goes about setting up their big 'we foiled a major terrorist operation' stings, with something like 100% of the actual work being done by agents provocateur, it doesn't surprise me in the least to have someone claiming such a thing.

  • SkyMax||

    Bush is a lasting disgrace, no doubt. And his successor is too, with his hit list meetings and trillion dollar deficits, among other things. Where is the balance, Mr. Chapman? When will you use the words disgrace and Obama in the same sentence?

  • Loki||

    When will you use the words disgrace and Obama in the same sentence?

    He never will. Obama is perfect and good, Bush is a living talisman of all that evil in this world. /Chapman

  • Marshall Gill||

    So shriek is Chapman? Leftarded imbeciles who call themselves "libertarians"? It is all starting to make sense.

  • Loki||

    Shorter Chapman: "BOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!!!!111!!!"

    While completely ignoring the fact that his hero Obama has continued the exact same policies.

  • EdwinNJ||

    Still only hearing about waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Not realy TORTURE torture things. Torture is more like shoving bamboo under the fingernails, flailing, breaking bones, wire-snipping off fingers, and that such stuff. Waterboarding and sleep deprivaiton pale in comparison, and those other things are what you think of when you hear the word "torture"

    "There is no way to prove that in some case at some time, an exercise in sadism might not cause a hardened terrorist to reveal everything"

    Well then that's it, it should be done and continue. I put zero weight on the suffering of terrorists, and if the theoretical gain (assuming there never were any known gains of information, which may not be the case) is only weighted at .5 points out of a hundred on the importance-scale, then that's still a net gain.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    You assume guilt. Do you put any weight on the suffering of the innocent?

  • Blogimi Dei||

    EDwinJN prolly thinks skin color is an indicator of guilt too.

  • Finrod||

    Let me guess-- you don't know anyone who voted for Romney or for McCain.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Please read The Gulag Archipelago, and get back to us on what torture is. It's a long series of books, but the first part of the first volume concerning interrogation should suffice. While you are at it, go read about what waterboarding is---Christopher Hitchens's experience is a good start---and then continue to insist that it isn't torture. Hint, you're drowning the victim. Repeatedly. It's torture, unless we're using it; is that it?

    You're another version of those assholes in New York who joke about stop and frisk, thinking that it'll never be used on them. They don't realize that a government that gets comfortable with a new power will inevitably expand the reach of that power. Or have you missed the expanded application of civil forfeiture, civil RICO, or the use of heavily armed, 'dynamic' entry?

    If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right?

  • PD Quig||

    "Few Americans realize what cruelties have been inflicted in their name."

    Many thousands of Marines and special forces members have gone through waterboarding as part of their training. But do please remind me: how many journalists have volunteered to have their fingernails torn off, their genitalia attached to car batteries, or burning cigarettes stubbed out in their eyes?

    The number used to be on the tip of my tongue. Oh. That's right! Now I remember...the number is ZERO.

    Yeah, I'm sure that waterboarding isn't pleasant, but we only used it on three known bad dudes. If 100 prisoners have died in US custody / interrogation during two wars that have lasted 12 years that's an unparalleled achievement. That's eight people per year--or about the number that would be expected to die riding a bike in a major US city every week.

  • PD Quig||

    or about the number that would be expected to die riding a bike in a major US city every weekyear.

  • Kevin47||

    Actually, it is the anti-torture hysterics who honed in on water boarding as the end all, be all of enhanced interrogation techniques.

    For years, it was impossible to have a reasonable conversation about torture, because the only goal of those who ostensibly opposed the practice was to make Bush out to be a Nazi. If anyone surmised it might be acceptable to, say, capture a non-citizen who is planting IEDs and subject him to icy cold or a loud dog or two, they were a WATERBORDERZ and part of BUSHCO.

    When you spend half a decade shutting down dialogue, you can't whine when there is no dialogue.

    That said, were any of the 100 allegedly killed citizens? I assume he would have included that information had they been so.

  • Free Society||

    That said, were any of the 100 allegedly killed citizens?

    Unalienable rights apply to everyone, regardless of citizenship. That's an important detail to know prior to making an argument about legal principles.

  • Finrod||

    Wrong. Soldiers captured on a battlefield have rights under the Geneva Convention, but terrorists and spies, by their own actions, surrender those international rights.

    If you want to start arguing about legal principles, it would help if you knew something about them.

  • Jerryskids||

    Terrorists have no rights.

    You wanna guess how many everyday criminals are now routinely hit with the 'making terroristic threats' charge, which would seem to make them - by definition - terrorists? How about we limit it to just school children with toy guns (or even just pictures of guns) who are now considered terrorists?

    Which is more to be feared, a world full of terrorists who are free to hide behind the law to escape responsibility for their actions or a government free to ignore the law in order to escape responsibility for their actions - and a subjective populace who applauds the government for doing so?

  • jem||

    If you think Patrick`s story is impressive..., five weaks-ago my son in law earnt $8989 workin 40 hours a month from their apartment and the're neighbor's mom`s neighbour done this for 3 months and made more than $8989 parttime on there pc. apply the guidelines on this site
    (Go to site and open "Home" for details)

  • Free Society||

    Which battlefield were they plucked from? And tell me, what in the world does citizenship have to do with suspending unalienable rights?

  • Kevin47||

    Is it known where they were plucked from?

  • Free Society||

    Ask Finrod, he seems to know exactly where they came from, that's how he so casually dismisses the validity of due process rights.

  • Blogimi Dei||

    Kevin47 - Geneva Convention, you asshole

  • Kevin47||

    That's the empirical standard by which I am supposed to be outraged? Meh.

  • Free Society||

    For Bush, Cheney and their accomplices, that choice should be a lasting disgrace.

    Steve Chapman leaves Obama out of all this guilt assigning? Surprise, surprise the progressive masquerading as a libertarian 'journalist' is outraged by the tortures committed over 4 years ago but not so much for the tortures committed within the last 4 year period. How peculiar. Even more peculiar is that Reason publishes this hypocrite.

  • Tony||

    What a disgrace of a comments section. Obama doesn't have to have an angelically pristine record before we can call Bush and Cheney out for their many crimes. And Obama stopped torture as US policy, for those of you claiming otherwise.

  • Free Society||

    Oh did he? I'm sure you visited and verified this at the still existent secret prisons operated by the CIA.

  • Jerryskids||

    Do you mean Benghazi? That's been shut down by Obama, I'm sure.

  • Finrod||

    Like most liberals, you take your own party leader at his word, instead of verifying. You probably believe that the Obama Administration doesn't raid medical marijuana clinics, either.

  • Tony||

    It is not relevant to an assessment of Bush.

    Everyone's reflexive need to make sure we're all aware of how bad Obama is when discussing the policy of the Bush admin. is plain partisanship, something you guys claim to not have.

  • Kevin47||

    Yeah, why would we reflexively need to point out that Obama is guilty of the same thing? It isn't as though he is the sitting president or anything.

  • Free Society||

    Since virtually every ill, real or imagined, has been blamed on Bush by this very administration and his supporters. Anti-Bush has always been the cornerstone of Obama policy even though his differences in policy range from 'similar' to 'worse'. Denying the validity of such criticism is the ultimate expression of partisanship.

  • Kevin47||

    He actually does have to be pristine. Otherwise, failing to mention him makes this about partisan affiliation and not about torture. Very few people who pretended to care about torture in 2006 are pretending to care now.

  • Rrabbit||

    And Obama stopped torture as US policy, for those of you claiming otherwise.

    The torture is still going on.
    Bradley Manning is one of the most obvious examples.

  • eyeroller||

    It's not just the people in government who have the double standard. Many of our fellow Americans feel exactly the same way. OK for me, not for thee.

  • eyeroller||

    I don't mean Bush/Obama double standard, I mean US can torture, but you can't.

  • Finrod||

    When you can show me anything the US government has done, under Bush or Obama, that even remotely compares what was done to Daniel Pearl, then you might have a point.

  • Jerryskids||

    Oh, c'mon - you can do better than that.

    Show me anything the US government has done that remotely compares to what Stalin did and I'll concede that you might have a point complaining about our government. (Feel free to substitute Hitler or Mao or Pol Pot or Idi Amin or Vlad The Impaler or Caligula for Stalin. As long as there was somebody worse off, you have no right to complain about how bad you have it.)

  • Free Society||

    So as long as the U.S. is one vaginal hair length less brutal than the most brutal people, then it's all good for you? It seems that moral relativism has served you well for evading the moral and practical implications of policies that you support.

  • Blogimi Dei||

    Excellent timing on the release of this report, right under the rug.

  • L13||


  • tommy0302||

    Penn Jillette had a great comment not too long ago on the Joy Behar show.

    She was complaining that all conservatives do is attack the President, can't he ever win?

    Penn's response is "He is not supposed to win."

    Perfectly put. The president, no matter the party, should always be under the microscope and scrutinized for everything we think is wrong. Something you will never hear from party cheerleaders like Tony who always want to talk up their dear leader and never to critique or waver in devotion.

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  • hannah42||

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  • LifeStrategies||

    Outstanding! Bush and Cheney are avid followers of Adolf Hitler's strategy: The end justifies the means...

    But Reagan had it right, torture is always wrong.

  • Wholly Holy Cow||

    Um... idiots, the US tarred and feathered Limey agents of the Royal Crown back in the 1770s. Those poor Brits died a slow miserable death. But oh, no: I can haz dwowninggg, says Achmed and Lefties and True Libertarians weep.

    Hey, I heard some Marines treated some Nips pretty poorly back in the day, too!!! I wish I had some sort of overblown and phony self righteousness thing going, but I don't. So I can't get too bothered by it. Or Hiroshima or Dresden or some terrorist shithead getting anally raped by John Bolton in a Dick Cheney mask.

    This is Earth, folks. Often a nasty brutish place. Where bad things happen. Unless of course your name is Che, Josef or Mao. Those guys were awesome. I mean, can a T-shirt be wrong?


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