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Getting Away with Torture

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Now we have it straight from the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.

She should have added “sadistic.” Your tax money went to employ sadists. Perhaps this is nothing new.

Feinstein writes this in introducing the recently declassified, but heavily redacted 525-page executive summary of the committee’s 6,000-page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT). It portrays a dishonest and brutal agency determined to use whatever methods it wished regardless of legality.

In her introduction, Feinstein put the CIA’s actions into context:

I can understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack….

Nevertheless, such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.

Amen. No excuse for torture is acceptable. Apologists for the CIA, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, may use all the convoluted arguments they can muster to claim that EITs do not constitute torture. But they cannot change the facts. Any government unfriendly to the American empire that had used these techniques would have been condemned by the U.S. government as barbaric.

What will happen now? In a word, nothing. Yes, we will have some fresh window dressing: the CIA has already been removed from doing detention and interrogation. But the CIA has been far from the only problem. The entire national-security state and the global empire it supports are the problems. The U.S. military detained and tortured more people than the CIA did, and despite appearances, President Obama has not ruled that out for the future.

As Jeffrey Kaye reported in the Guardian,

The United States Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation has been sold to the American public and the world as a replacement for the brutal torture tactics used by the CIA and the Department of Defense during the Bush/Cheney administration.

On 22 January 2009, President Obama released an executive order stating that any individual held by any US government agency “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.”

But a close reading of Department of Defense documents and investigations by numerous human rights agencies have shown that the current Army Field Manual itself uses techniques that are abusive and can even amount to torture.…

Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special “technique” called “Separation,” human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.

Aside from some PR stunts, the government will observe standard operating procedure. What we know for certain is that no one will be prosecuted. Top officials in the George W. Bush administration, and operatives all along the chain of command, broke American and international law. The U.S. government is a party to antitorture treaties, under which suspected transgressors are to be prosecuted. So Obama is flouting the law by not pressing for legal action, and torture victims have been denied redress in court.

Moreover, the U.S. government never joined the International Criminal Court, so it obviously will not cooperate in any effort to bring American torturers to justice.

About the only hint of consequences for the torturers is that henceforth they will be afraid to travel to Europe, where they might be charged with crimes against humanity under the “universal jurisdiction” doctrine. It’s small comfort that torturers will be deprived of the ability to vacation abroad.

Regular Americans are held accountable for their actions. Why are not government officials?

As long as the American people overlook government’s criminal acts, the state will continue to commit crimes.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.