Tortured excuses and justifications do not lessen the crime


Dennis Breslin
December 9, 2014

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."


Pro-torture defenders predictably pass off the same old excuses (“it may have been wrong, but we didn’t do it) and justifications (“yes we did it but we had too and thus it wasn’t wrong).  Denials, dismissals, excuses, or justifications do not erase the sanctioned cruelty nor lessen the crimes committed. There are ten simple things to remember:

(1) It’s never who you do it too but always what it is you actually did. Much as our conversations about Eric Garner and Michael Brown similarly switch villains, torture is never about the person brutalized but those who imagine, prepare, and commit cruel and inhumane acts. It’s never about guilt or innocence of the victims – not the least because those who are tortured are never subject to trial or prosecution. In a just society, there are limits to authority. When those limits are breached, that authority cracks and breaks. For a rightwing that revels in childish tantrums, the simply lessen of Humpty Dumpty is lost on them.

(2) The methods employed by the CIA are straightforwardly torture. Drowning, sleep deprivation to the point of insanity, slapping, beating, slamming, and dragging are beyond dispute forms of torture. A medically unnecessary rectal infusion of one’s lunch takes pain and degradation to a new level of excess.

Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture states

“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

(3) The use of torture by the CIA is prohibited by international law – the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions – as well as prohibited by Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. And George W. Bush acknowledged as much notwithstanding that the Bush administration apparently could not regard involuntary and unnecessary rectal feeding as torture.

The United States ratified the Convention against Torture in 1994. It was President Ronald Reagan who initially submitted the Convention against Torture to the senate for ratification in 1988.

(4) Torture is criminal, absolute and in existing state and federal law. As crime, it’s absolute – there aren’t any grounds where it’s permissible. And as crime, particular offenses are covered by existing criminal law. These points were acknowledged in the State Departments’ report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 1999.    


Š       “Torture cannot be justified by exceptional circumstances, nor can it be excused on the basis of an order from a superior officer.” Alleged effectiveness of torture is never the issue. To do otherwise imperils the law.


Š       Acts of torture are crimes and they fall within the scope of existing federal or state laws on assault, maiming, murder, manslaughter, attempt to commit murder or manslaughter, or rape as well as conspiracy and being an accessory after the fact. “Every state criminalizes deliberate acts of bodily injury as well as abuses of authority on the part of state agents, whether as common assault and battery, homicide, rape, etc., as well as conspiracies, attempts, complicity, solicitation, etc.”


Š       Torture also are criminal violations of the federal civil rights statutes, depriving an individual of “the free exercise or enjoyment of a right of privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.



(5) Human rights are at stake. This isn’t a matter of dispute among partisans. It’s an argument for violating human rights. No amount of dishonest language - labeling the CIA’s tactics as “enhanced interrogation techniques” – and no amount of invocations of 9/11 or fear mongering about terrorism can escape what a few want to do to the many – abridge human rights. This never is a matter of dispute among partisans. Pro-torture advocates argue for  violating human rights. It’s a call for the government to sanction and engage in unlawful, criminal activity.

(6) The CIA lied, lied again, and lied about lying.  The CIA repeatedly lied to Congress and knowingly destroyed evidence of its wrongdoing. The CIA also spied on the senate committee charged with oversight. To steal from Mary McCarthy, everything the CIA says is a lie, including the “and” and “the.”

(7) No congressional oversight = no CIA accountability. Congressional oversight has been significantly compromised. The responses by the CIA leadership and Senate Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee criticizing the committee’s report represent a further compromise. The CIA regards itself as beyond accountable. Where in the past 60 years has a CIA without accountability not take a horrible situation and make it much, much worse.

(8) What price torture? An unaccountable government agency, a cowed political leadership. a vindictive elite, and a fearful public. This never turns out well.

(9) There’s more to the revelations than what was revealed. The Most Horrific Revelations In The CIA Torture Report

(10) Gruesome doesn’t quite capture it.  The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’