Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Noam Chomsky Reviews the US History of Torture

Noam Chomsky -- the great seminal US foreign policy critic -- has an article up over at TomDispatch that reviews the US history of torture, pointing out that it's not something that is new in American history:

None of this is to say that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al. did not introduce important innovations. In ordinary American practice, torture was largely farmed out to subsidiaries, not carried out by Americans directly in their own government-established torture chambers. As Allan Nairn, who has carried out some of the most revealing and courageous investigations of torture, points out: "What the Obama [ban on torture] ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under U.S. patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so."

Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but "merely repositioned it," restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. "[H]is is a return to the status quo ante," writes Nairn, "the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more U.S.-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years."

Sometimes the American engagement in torture was even more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that U.S. aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,... to the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights." Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation. Not surprisingly, U.S. aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, commonly improved by the murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

I don't think he's trying to downplay what Bush-Cheney did -- if anything, prosecuting them would create a deterrent effect for future US leadership -- but he's pointing out that our history is far from clean when it comes to torture, that it wasn't just some maniacal invention of David Addington and John Yoo.


JMP said...

You can follow the old ghost NC down the rabbit holes, but even he agrees that things have improved. What he did not tell you is the frank difficulty in getting other countries to adhere to your proposed vaunted standards. Without reciprocal understandings etc. So it's sometimes nice just to get back to even. Even when it was not in the best of places. You can not try and remake foreign policy based on one singular criteria overnight, or quickly.

BushCo's greatest mistake was to try and Publicly Legitimatize and Legalize torture. Something even the Catholic Church dared not try to do in the 600 years it directed the Inquisition. They too tried to use 'outsourcing' for much of their nefarious & dirty deeds. It was mostly composed of legal fictions however. JMP