Saturday, September 30, 2006

A refreshing clarity

Last week was certainly an ignominious one for the United States's offical image of itself. The decision to grant the excutive basically unlimited rights to hold prisoners without due process or habeus corpus and subject them to "aggressive interrogation" has to be entered on the list of equally shameful offical acts such as the Dred Scot decision, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Fugitive Slave Acts, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Some say it's the end of the American experiment; certainly it represents a new low in official government policy in the modern era.

But let's not confuse the official statements of government with what it actually does. It's not like human rights abuses up to and including torture are something that was cooked up last week, or even in the last six years. The US intelligence apparatus has been investigating, promoting, and utilizing torture around the world since the end of World War II, usually with disastrous results. We used torture ourselves in Vietnam, and trained torturers who worked in Iran under the Shah, in the Phillipines under Marcos, in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo did not emerge from nowhere; they are directly traceable to a half-century of institutional practices that have usually stayed beneath the surface.

In our urge to excoriate the Republicans who are responsible for the most recent set of travesties, let's stop and give thanks to them for stripping away the rhetoric of human rights talk and exposing our actual practices. What has gone on in the shadows now goes on under color of law and with the blessings of the people's representatives. We are now officially a torture state.

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