Torture Nation


The adoption of torture as an authorized interrogation technique by the United States was innovated by president Bush, vice-president Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and officials in the Justice Department and Pentagon in the wake of 9/11. It has been documented in hundreds of cases in every theater of war, and authorized by presidential directive, waiving the Geneva Conventions if "military necessity" demands it. Last September, Karl Rove made a strategic decision to use the torture issue as a last, desperate campaign tactic - to see if he could out-Bauer the Democrats. Jane Mayer's latest contribution to reporting the shift of America from a law-abiding country to a torturing nation is this piece on the hit television show, "24." It's a very effective drama and pure fantasy for pro-torture conservatives. Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham has even confessed to finding scenes of brutal interrogations therapeutic:

[Joel] Surnow, [the creator of "24"] once appeared as a guest on Ingraham's show; she told him that, while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, "it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists, and I felt better." Surnow joked, "We love to torture terrorists it's good for you!"

Mayer helps show how Charles Krauthammer's near-non-existent "ticking clock" scenario has been popularized by "24" in such a way as to normalize torture in the public consciousness. In five seasons of "24", there have been sixty-seven torture scenes, and all of them are portrayed as effective, productive, and justified. Military cadets, weaned on '24", now tend to see nothing wrong with it. Soldiers in the field have internalized the show's ethics. One witness to this is Tony Lagouranis, a former army interrogator in Iraq. He tells Mayer that some soldiers in Iraq just replicated the "24" scenes in real life - even though torture is still nominally illegal under American law for the regular military (the Bush administration has created a special CIA torture unit to do the job instead).

Lagouranis is a good witness for what has actually been happening in the war:

"In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence," Lagouranis told me. "I worked with someone who used waterboarding ... I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened." Some people, he said, "gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information."

Yep: these are American soldiers he's talking about, not Serbian thugs. What's truly disturbing is how enthusiastic the Republican establishment is about this adoption of torture as the American way. The Heritage Foundation had a symposium celebrating the show, organized by Virginia Thomas, wife of Clarence. Michael Chertoff endorsed "24", despite its endorsement of law-breaking by government officials. Then we discover this:

The same day as the Heritage Foundation event, a private luncheon was held in the Wardrobe Room of the White House for Surnow and several others from the show. (The event was not publicized.) Among the attendees were Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff; Tony Snow, the White House spokesman; Mary Cheney, the Vice-President's daughter; and Lynn Cheney, the Vice-President's wife, who, Surnow said, is "an extreme '24' fan." After the meal, Surnow recalled, he and his colleagues spent more than an hour visiting with Rove in his office.

It all begins to make more sense now, doesn't it?

(Photo: Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, under U.S. supervision.)