On his first day in office, President Obama banned torture via an executive order. This past summer the Senate voted to outlaw torture for good a part of a routine Defense Department funding bill. It’s not law yet since the House is hostage-taking per usual. But, it will become law.
So, a mere 15 years after the Bush White House ordered torture on a large scale in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and around the world. (If you doubt it read the links below.), is that it? Was our one-presidential administration experiment with torture as a deliberate national policy just a one-off affair and a fading memory? Or, could it happen all over again? After all:
- Torture was illegal in 2001, too, and that didn’t stop them;
- No senior U.S. government officials were ever prosecuted for ordering torture and only a few low-level people were convicted of performing it;
- The public approved of using torture or, at best, was easily persuaded either it wasn’t really torture or torture was necessary to protect the country;
- The torture regime’s main architects are openly boastful of how limited and necessary it was; and
- Republican politicians – including some presidential candidates – say openly they would torture again if “necessary.”
On the other hand, reviving a torture regime might be hard to do in the future, no matter who wins which elections. A lot of thoughtful people in our political system understand what a mess the Bush torture regime was and that our country paid a high price for fairy limited (but NOT zero) benefits. All of those investigations of torture – by the Senate Intelligence committee, Amnesty international and other outside organizations, and the news media – have been pretty damning. It’s not at all clear to me that we would adjure torture if the circumstances were favorable to it (climate of fear, despised enemies, panicked leaders, etc.). I predict a good discussion..
I’m also hoping that we will focus more on the future conditions that might lead to a repeat of torture, rather than on stale debates over its efficacy Of course, focusing on the future requires understanding why we tortured in the first place, So, I will open the meeting with a brief retrospective on what the torture regime consisted of and why it was done.
A new topic list will be available, too.
Discussion Questions –
- WHY: What led the USG to adopt torture on a large scale after 9/11? Which individuals and institutions failed?
- WHAT: How widespread was the torture and was it really administered in a careful and controlled manner, as torture’s advocates insist?
- WORKED? Why do some say torture “worked?” How has this argument been refuted?
- FUTURE: Under what conditions would pressure build to do it all over again? Which individuals and institutions would have to fail again?
- YOU & ME: What role will public opinion play if we face this choice again? Will memories of the post-9/11 torture help or hurt?
Suggested Background Readings –
- Key finding of the 2014 Senate report on torture.
- Some of the most brutal, brutal details. It was not “just” a bit of waterboarding. A must-read.
- Forget Gitmo: Torture by U.S. personnel was widespread in Afghanistan. Must-read.
- WHY these decisions were made: The basics.
- Why torture is wrong, in case you need convincing:
- WILL WE torture again?
- Very likely says Amnesty International, since prosecuting no one sends a loud message
- Of course we will. Especially since the public has grown more supportive of torture in the last 15 years, including about 70% of Republicans. Recommended.
- Some but not all GOP presidential candidates have publicly put torture back on the table.
Next Week: Democratic Presidential Debate Wrap-Up (New Schedule Begins)