"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Understanding Torture

The first job of the American Resistance is to understand the forces arrayed against us. The tendency to personalize political forces is a temptation which the corporate media encourages us to indulge and which dissipates the power of our critique. While people make politics and exercise power, their decisions are usually a response to forces that are not personal and in most cases, have little if any respect for the value of humanity to which the Resistance is committed. President Obama, for instance, is by all evidence a sincere and intelligent man, committed to the moral good as he understands it, but now part of a system that does not respect that moral good. His administration serves at the pleasure of the national security apparatus, as has every President since John F. Kennedy, whose death at the hands of that apparatus is graphic evidence to each successor of the consequences of disobedience.

There is no significant constituency for democracy or the rule of law within the ruling elite. They respect wealth and the pleasures wealth brings to themselves and their cohorts. Many of them sincerely believe that the virtues cultivated in striving for wealth are the highest ideals to which humanity can attain. But, sincere or not, these “virtues” drive the policies of their agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank.

The purpose of torture is to intimidate dissidents and enforce obedience to corporate priorities. The methods used in Guantanamo and the Middle East were developed during the U.S. led coup in Chile which established Pinochet and implemented the first massive neoliberal experiments of the current era. The technique that Obama has employed in releasing selective information about what is done to those who question U.S. dominance follows a classic pattern.

Naomi Klein wrote concerning torture, "But this fear [of torture] has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantanamo--pictures of men in cages, for instance--at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. ...This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as 'knowing/not knowing,' a vestige of their 'dirty war.'" - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

The purpose of letting people know some gruesome details of torture while holding back others is clear: "...when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

In other words, both of Obama's decisions inform potential dissidents that U.S. intelligence practices torture and that the practitioners will not be prosecuted. At last, the pattern emerges: "This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

If there are investigations of the Bush torture policy, it is likely that they will be used to further desensitize Americans toward torture, normalizing it into one more instrument of imperial policy. Once the instruments are on the table, dissidents will understand what’s in store for those who contradict the new consensus.

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