Tuesday, June 26, 2010

Looking Backwards—The Final Post

George W. Bush did not invent torture.

After more than three years since the release of American Torture it’s the one phrase that has come to my mind, again and again.

Yes—the Bush Administration promoted torture. They expanded its use. Former officials—and Bush himself—still defend torture. But they did not invent it, or introduce it into US foreign policy.

The KUBARK manual and John Mark’s classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, first punctured this myth for me. In American Torture, I used these sources—and many others—to plot US use of torture from SERE schools to secret CIA prisons. My message was simple: Torture is counterproductive. It is inhumane. And it is not new in the American experience.

The more people knew these things, I thought, the more torture would lose its appeal. But torture persists within the legal black hole at Bagram. Guantanamo remains open and indefinite detention—even for the guiltless—continues. Torture photos are blocked. Accountability thwarted. And torture is still codified. Obama has continued the policies of his predecessor. Change has not come.

I must judge the impact of American Torture in more personal ways. My views on torture are still sought. Occasionally, I get an email from someone who has read my book—a student, an artist, or someone in the military—thanking me or asking questions. And in all these years, I’ve gotten only one piece of hate mail.

Yet it pains me to see how often the wider context of US use of torture is lost. At high profile anti-torture and accountability events—like this otherwise memorable one I attended recently in New York City—the wider history of US torture gets passing mention, if at all.

But recognition of our past crimes—all of our past crimes—is the only way to move forward. The torturers and the medical professionals that provided expertise must be held accountable. The administration lawyers and top White House, CIA and Pentagon officials that sanctioned torture must be held accountable as well. But this spans beyond the Bush Administration.

The continuum of US cruelty is deep—stretching though Vietnam, Latin America and beyond. It should be followed to the root. Surviving torturers and members of previous Administrations responsible for torture should be sought along side Bush Administration officials in any Truth Commission or War Crimes Tribunal.

Today is June 26, 2010—International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It has been exactly 23 years since the UN Convention Against Torture—signed with reservations by the United States—came into force.

We owe victims of torture one thing above all else: justice. We should seek out all perpetrators of torture. We must expose them for who they are, and for what they’ve done. There is no statute of limitations on inhumanity.