Scharmyn: The American Way of Torture

6_botero.jpgby Quorri Scharmyn

An obvious lie and an obvious truth: The lie is “America doesn’t do torture.” The truth is that the U.S. government has been torturing across the world, in special CIA camps and military prisons. They have organized it, justified it, and covered it up. They trained and unleashed the torturers, and then gave them immunity from persecution. The government has picked officials, including now the Attorney General, making sure that they support torture and will help shield the torturers from international war crimes trials and from domestic prosecution. When the U.S. government talks of “protecting our way of life” – the truth is that torture of both innocents and opponents stands out around the world as a hallmark of that "way of life."

Quorri Sharmayn submitted the following article to Kasama – on the conduct and coverup of U.S. torture.


* * * * *

"We used [waterboarding] against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time." Michael Hayden, CIA head, to the House Intelligence Committee. (February 11th, 2008).


The government's legitimization of torture has taken another sickening lurch forward. They began with the denial that Abu Ghraib was representative of the norm, they claimed that the debasing and dehumanizing torture techniques employed there were not directives passed down from above. Next we saw them denying that they flew individuals across foreign borders to places secretive and removed, to prisons where extreme degradation could more easily be accomplished. Now we've seen these stories begin to fall apart piece by blood soaked piece.

At last, though, we now have an admission.

Michael Hayden, head of the CIA is at the center of the press' cameras after the CIA admitted, finally, that it did indeed use waterboarding as a tactic in coercing vital information out of supposed terrorist suspects. Waterboarding is familiar to the heavy handed forces of the world and was even documented in School of the Americas training manuals. Manuals at a "school" that our government ran from 1946-1984. Hayden says in an excellent demonstration of double speak that, although they had used waterboarding in the past they hadn't done so for five years and that "[waterboarding] is not included in the current program, and in my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute." What we can take from this revelatory statement is that waterboarding has been used as a valid technique for getting that hard-to-reach information in a suspect, that we don't necessarily order people to do it explicitly right now, and that it may or may not be lawful, anyway.

These elite are stepping closer and closer to the day when they might proclaim, "Of course we rip fingernails off of terrorists once we catch them, it's easier to make them tell us what we want when we do it that way." In fact, a House Judiciary Committee's top Republican Representative, Lamar Smith of Texas, asked Attorney General Mukasey, "Would you agree with me that 99 percent of the American people would probably endorse such techniques if they would be shown to save thousands of American lives and were conducted only on terrorists?"

The transparency is appalling. Top government officials no longer hide their torture behind secret prison extraditions and erased video evidence, they openly promote its use amongst one another.

George Bush has no qualms proclaiming the fact that he may authorize the use of waterboarding if he had "belief that an attack might be imminent" and that he would veto a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would ban the CIA from "using harsh interrogation techniques such as water-boarding."

When the lights go out and we turn off our televisions, though, it is hard to forget that, no matter what these powerful individuals have recently admitted, enacted, or repressed, torture has been a part of their repertoire long before we ever saw the desperately denigrating photos from Abu Ghraib. Like Naomi Klein said, "the US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it." (See The Hidden History of U.S. torture by Alfred McCoy.)

What does the openness mean? It means that the U.S. government wants to mobilize a section of U.S. public opinion to actively support (even demand) torture -- to justify it, to protect its practitioners, to engage in it, to shout down those who are repulsed and outraged. The openness is a political step into the future, and suggests what that future may contain.

And then, at the same time, the system in the U.S. maintains its "figleaf." Raw torture is called "interrogation techniques" or "extraordinary measures" in the media. The extent of it is hidden (behind talk of "only three known terrorists....") The way it was approved at the highest levels of government -- the White House itself -- is still cloaked . And, great care is being taken to make it impossible to have the coming election become a referendum on torture: After a primary battle among largely pro-torture Republicans, their nominee will be McCain, who has argued against any public endorsement of U.S. torture. This issue (like so many crucial and defining issues of power and policy) is "off that table" of the national election (and therefore out of the limelight of national scrutiny). Such things are (officially) to be left for those in charge to decide (together with the men that Bush so delicately called "the professionals.")

While this government validates their tortuous whims more and more openly, the situation begs of all of us to leave behind our willingness to trust or hope in a system that is complicit in devastation of a global scale and breadth. Every human they waterboard, sexually humiliate, hood, blindfold, manipulate, and torture is one person closer to the day when they will legitimize this treatment even more broadly, even more routinely, even more openly -- threatening and brutalizing anyone they deem dangerous.


BBC News. (February 6, 2008). US 'may' use waterboarding again. Retrieved February 10th, 2008, from .

MSNBC. (February 7, 2008). CIA chief: Waterboarding probably not legal. Retrieved February 10th, 2008, from .

Guardian Unlimited. (December 10, 2005). The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it. Retrieved February 10th, 2008, from,12271,1664174,00.html .



Published: 2008Available online at mikeely.wordpress.comSend comments to: kasamasite (at) yahoo (dot) comFeel free to reprint, distribute or quote with attribution to Mike Ely and a link.This website and all contents are licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License Creative Commons LicenseWho links to me?


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  • Guest - somecomments

    An excellent article. Here's some additional information and a question.

    John McCain's latest position completely strips him of any credibility in opposing the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program. This week, McCain voted against an intelligence bill that stated:

    "No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations."

    McCain insists that he remains opposed to torture and waterboarding, but that this bill would have applied military standards to the CIA, which he opposes. As McCain said on the Senate floor:

    "It was not my intent to eliminate the CIA interrogation program, but rather to ensure that the techniques it employs are humane and do not include such extreme techniques as waterboarding. I said on the Senate floor during the debate over the Military Commissions Act, 'Let me state this flatly: it was never our purpose to prevent the CIA from detaining and interrogating terrorists. On the contrary, it is important to the war on terror that the CIA have the ability to do so. At the same time, the CIA’s interrogation program has to abide by the rules, including the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act.'"

    "What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, " McCain said, "but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

    When you strip away the double-speak, McCain believes that the CIA must have the power to utilize waterboarding and any other forms of "interrogration" that it deems necessary to rid the world of terrorism.

    And a question: What are Obama and Clinton saying about this issue?

  • Guest - Quorri Scharmyn

    "All of us - Democrats and Republicans - want to do whatever it takes to track down terrorists and bring them to justice as swiftly as possible. All of us want to give our President every tool necessary to do this. And all of us were willing to do that in this bill. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to the American people...And for those who our government suspects of terror, I support whatever tools are necessary to try them and uncover their plot."
    -- Barack Obama to the Senate after passing S. 3930, Military Commissions Act of 2006, "which approved US torture of detainees and strips Constitutional rights away from detainees"


    and then....

    "In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the President, and the President must be held accountable. That very, very narrow exception within very, very limited circumstances is better than blasting a big hole in our entire law."
    --Hillary Clinton in an interview with <i> New York Daily News </i>, October 2006


    (P.S. I hope all my code turned out right, this is a fledgling attempt at it.... :D)

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