Thursday, December 11, 2014


The national media has taken the spotlight off the racist police murders piling up in America and the protests that have followed to opine about the Senate torture report.  Actually, the connection between the two is obvious, if only one takes a moment to see it (Read Chauncey DeVega's post below for some good insight on this).

Torture, everybody's talking about torture...the pundits are all aghast at the Senate report.  ..have we lost a moral compass, they ask?

Seriously?  What moral compass are they even talking about?

Ain't nothing new here, not really.

Torture has been a part of USA history since the git go.

Even before the USA was a thought, we find  A Spanish missionary, Bartolome de las Casas, describing eye-witness accounts of mass murder, torture and rape of indigenous people. Author Barry Lopez, summarizing Las Casas' report wrote:
"One day, in front of Las Casas, the Spanish dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 people. 'Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight,' he says, 'as no age can parallel....' The Spanish cut off the legs of children who ran from them. They poured people full of boiling soap. They made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. They loosed dogs that 'devoured an Indian like a hog, at first sight, in less than a moment.' They used nursing infants for dog food." 

Ask the shocked pundits about slavery.  Take a peek at Ed Baptist’s The Half that Has NeverBeen Told.  Slaves were tortured by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding and imprisonment.  They were tortured with knives, guns, field tools and nearby objects.  George Rawick in the book From Sundown to Sunup, writes about the torture of slave women,

If the woman was pregnant, workers might dig a hole for her to rest her belly while being whipped. After slaves were whipped, overseers might order their wounds be burst and rubbed with turpentine and red pepper. An overseer reportedly took a brick, ground it into a powder, mixed it with lard and rubbed it all over a slave

The Atlanta Blackstar has a pretty horrifying piece entitled  "8 Disturbing Photos of Instruments of Torture Used on Black People."  Let me quote from the article about one of the devices:

The thumbscrew is a torture instrument that was used on captured Black people aboard slaver traders’ ships on the Atlantic Ocean. The torture device was often used against the Africans involved in uprisings and insurrection during the Atlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th century. The leader would be forced to place his thumbs between two flat metal pieces, connected by one or more screws. The metal bars had ridges, either smooth bumps or sharp spikes, that would bore into a victim’s thumbs, trapping him into the metal mechanism as his bones were crushed. It was a small, torturous device that inflicted extreme pain without too much effort.

Ask the pundits about the Filipinos who fought against the USA back in 1898.  US troops used torture to interrogate suspects for information. One method was the ‘water cure.’
USA soldiers  would shove a funnel into the victim's mouth and then fill him with water until his stomach distended. Then they would jump on the victim's stomach until he vomited. 
Ask the pundits about  people being questioned by cops back in the 1900s.  That same water cure was just one of the tools in the arsenal of the police.  Psychologist G.Daniel Lassiter  in his 2004 book about it.  He wrote:  
...the water cure consisted of holding a suspect's head in water until he almost drowned; or thrusting a water hose into his mouth or down his mouth; or forcing a suspect to lay on his back (if not already strapped to a cot or slab) while pouring water into his nostrils, sometimes from a dipper until he was nearly strangled.

Ask the pundits about CIA torture research back in the 1950s?  As the History Network notes:

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with costs that reached a billion dollars a year. Many have heard about the most outlandish and least successful aspect of this research -- the testing of LSD on unsuspecting subjects and the tragic death of a CIA employee, Dr. Frank Olson, who jumped to his death from a New York hotel after a dose of this drug. This Agency drug testing, the focus of countless sensational press accounts and a half-dozen major books, led nowhere.

But obscure CIA-funded behavioral experiments, outsourced to the country’s leading universities, produced two key findings, both duly and dully reported in scientific journals, that contributed to the discovery of a distinctly American form of torture: psychological torture.With funding from Canada’s Defense Research Board, famed Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in just 48 hours. What had the doctor done—drugs, hypnosis, electroshock? No, none of the above.

For two days, student volunteers at McGill University, where Dr. Hebb was chair of Psychology, simply sat in comfortable cubicles deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and ear muffs... 

Dr. Hebb himself reported that after just two to three days of such isolation “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.”If you compare a drawing of Dr. Hebb’s student volunteers published in “Scientific American” with later photos of Guantanamo detainees, the similarity is, for good reason, striking.

Meanwhile, the CIA was training military interrogators across the Americas in torture techniques. 

Ask the pundits to take a look at the testimony of Vietnam War veteran Brian Wilson who stated (and I present this in full):

I became aware of torture as a U.S. policy in 1969 when I was serving as a USAF combat security officer working near Can Tho City in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. I was informed about the CIA's Phong Dinh Province Interrogation Center (PIC) at the Can Tho Army airfield where supposedly "significant members" of the VCI (Viet Cong infrastructure) were taken for torture as part of the Phoenix Pacification Program. A huge French-built prison nearby was also apparently utilized for torture of suspects from the Delta region. Many were routinely murdered.

Naive, I was shocked! The Agency for International Development (AID) working with Southern Illinois University, for example, trained Vietnamese police and prison officials in the art of torture ("interrogations") under cover of "public safety." American officials believed they were teaching "better methods," often making suggestions during torture sessions conducted by Vietnamese police.

Instead of the recent euphemism "illegal combatants," the United State in Vietnam claimed prisoners were "criminal" and therefore exempt from Geneva Convention protections.

The use of torture as a function of terror, or its equivalent in sadistic behavior, has been historic de facto U.S. policy.

Our European ancestors' shameful, sadistic treatment of the indigenous inhabitants based on an ethos of arrogance and violence has become ingrained in our values. "Manifest destiny" has rationalized as a religion the elimination or assimilation of those perceived to be blocking American progress—at home or abroad—a belief that expansion of the nation, including subjugation of natives and others, is divinely ordained, that our "superior race" is obligated to "civilize" those who stand in the way.

When examining my roots in New York and New England, I discovered that Indian captives were skinned alive and dragged through the streets of New Amsterdam (New York City) in the 1640s. Scalping enabled Indian bounty hunters to be paid.

Captains Underhill and Endicott, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony governed by John Winthrop, spent their time "burning and spoiling the country" of Indians in Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1636–37, while sparing the children and women as slaves.

My hometown of Geneva in the Finger Lakes region of New York State was once home to the Seneca Nation with its flourishing farms, orchards, and sturdy houses. In one two-week period in September 1779, General George Washington's orders "to lay waste…that the country…be…destroyed," instilling "terror" among the Indians, were dutifully carried out by General Sullivan, who promised that "the Indians shall see that there is malice enough in our hearts to destroy everything that contributes to their support." Sullivan's campaign has been described as a ruthless policy of scorched earth, bearing comparison with Sherman's march to the sea or the search-and-destroy missions of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

In northern California, where I now live, the same grueling history exists. Bret Harte wrote in 1860 that little children and old women were mercilessly stabbed and their skulls crushed by axes: "Old women…lay weltering in blood, their brains dashed out…while infants…with their faces cloven with hatchets and their bodies ghastly wounds" lay nearby.

In 1920, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) investigated the conduct of U.S. troops who had occupied Haiti since 1915. More than 3,000 Haitians were killed by U.S. Marines, many having been tortured.

When indigenous Nicaraguan resistance fought against the occupying U.S. forces in the late 1920s, the Marines launched counterinsurgency war. U.S. policymakers insisted on "stabilizing" the country to enforce loan repayments to U.S. banks. They defined the resistance forces as "bandits," an earlier equivalent to the "criminal prisoners" in Vietnam and "illegal combatants" in Iraq. Since the United States claimed not to be fighting a legitimate military force, any Nicaraguan perceived as interfering with the occupiers was commonly subjected to beatings, tortures, and beheadings. When the Somoza dictatorship (installed by the United States) was overthrown in 1979, the Somoza torture centers were immediately destroyed.

In 1946, the U.S. Army institutionalized teaching torture techniques to Latin American militaries with the opening of its School of the Americas (SOA), which continues today as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).

Torture has been a historical U.S. practice in police stations and prisons—and via countless vigilante crimes of sadistic torture and mutilation against black Americans.

The Wickersham Commission's 1931 Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement concluded that "the third degree is the employment of methods which inflict suffering, physical or mental, upon a person, in order to obtain from that person information about a crime… The third degree is widespread. The third degree is a secret and illegal practice."

Seventy years later, the 2002 Human Rights Watch World Report documented systematic use of torture by U.S. police: "thousands of allegations of police abuse, including excessive use of force, such as unjustified shootings, beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment."

My studies of brutality in Massachusetts prisons in 1981 concluded (in "Walpole State Prison, Massachusetts: An Exercise in Torture") by noting "a clear pattern and history of systematic torture including withholding water, heat, bedding, medical care, and showers; imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, placing foreign matter in food, igniting clothes and bedding, spraying with mace and tear gas; regular physical assaults and beatings; and forcing prisoners to lie face down, naked and handcuffed to one another…on freezing…outdoor ground while being kicked and beaten." This was two decades before the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo revelations.

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist, has testified about human rights abuses in U.S. prisons. "The plight of prisoners in the USA is strikingly similar to the plight of the Iraqis who were abused by American GIs. Prisoners are maced, raped, beaten, starved, left naked in freezing cold cells and otherwise abused in too many American prisons, as substantiated by findings in many courts…"

It would behoove us to attempt to understand the underlying psychological defenses that seem to have afflicted us like a cultural mental illness since our origins.

So, I say to Mr. Pundit, I say to Anderson Cooper and to Rachel Maddow, get over it.  This isn't a new story.  This is American history pure and simple.

The following is from our old friend Chauncey DeVega. 

The Culture of Cruelty is International: From Lynchings to Eric Garner and the CIA Torture Report

In its deranged madness to prevent a second 9/11 attack on "the homeland", the United States tortured and brutalized suspected "terrorists" with drownings, beatings, forcing food through their anuses, handcuffing people with broken legs to the ceiling, parading them around naked, threatening to sexually assault their mothers and families, exposing them to extreme temperatures, and sensory deprivation.

This is a sterile bullet point-like summary--the irony of that office speak MBA language is fitting and unintentionally macabre and darkly humorous--of the tortures that the CIA will publicly admit to having committed; the real horrors are likely far worse, hiding behind redacted passages and in dark corners, hushed rumors that circulate in the alcohol influenced bar and private conversations of CIA agents and private contractors, never to be publicly admitted to or spoken of.

A willfully ignorant public and a deceptive lying chattering class wrap themselves in American exceptionalism as a means of claiming surprise, shock, and horror at the faux revelations in the CIA torture report. They do this because the truth cannot be reconciled with the myths of an America that never really existed.

America tortures people. It has done this domestically to war resisters, conscience objectors, pacifists, suffragettes, slaves, civil rights workers, and inmates.

Inflicting pain on the black body is a special obsession andparaphilia for white America. In its pogroms, land theft, and riots, white Americans lynched at least 10,000 black citizens.

The CIA torture report is a damning document and a difficult read. It is child's fare compared to the tortures inflicted on black people by white folks for centuries in their ritual birthright of American Apartheid and Jim Crow.

A member of the white lynching party that destroyed Mr. Claude Neal in 1934 offers this account of White America's habit of racial torture on the black body:

“After taking the nigger to the woods about four miles from Greenwood, they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. Then they cut off his testicles and made him eat them and say he liked it. Then they sliced his sides and stomach with knives and every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the nigger to burn him from top to bottom.” From time to time during the torture a rope would be tied around Neal’s neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there until he almost choked to death when he would be let down and the torture begin all over again. After several hours of this unspeakable torture, “they decided just to kill him.”
The United States has tortured people abroad in its wars, secret prisons, and other covert operations. Because the United States has historically been, and remains in the present, a white racist society, it is far easier to torture those who are marked as some type of Other.

Thus, white on black and brown racial violence and torture is far more common than white on white torture.

The United States is also an expert in torture. Its School of the Americas taught soon to be petit-thug dictators and their secret police forces how to torture, intimidate, and terrorize their own people. The hundreds, if not thousands of amateurs in the art of pain would graduate from the School of the Americas as masters, proliferating and spawning many more minions in their own countries, like fruit flies or bacteria, as they "disappeared" and tortured "Communists" in the name of "democracy" and "freedom".

But ultimately, the United States tortures on both sides of the colorline--perhaps this is one of the few spaces that has been radically democratic and inclusive?

America's torture machine, and the culture of cruelty that produced it, exist internationally and across the colorline.

Torture is sustained and legitimated by the banality of evil and a numbness to violence and harm done to others as a learned behavior--one taught by violent movies, video games, and conditioned by a neverending "War on Terror" where robots and drones kill from afar with ruthless efficiency.

Consequently, the "War on Terror" is a persistent "state of emergency" that retards and damages a democratic polity and public sphere.

The philosopher and social critic Slavoj Zizek details this processwith his usual keen insight:

The paradox is that the state of emergency was the normal state, while ‘normal’ democratic freedom was the briefly enacted exception. This weird regime anticipated some clearly perceptible trends in our liberal-democratic societies in the aftermath of 11 September. Is today’s rhetoric not that of a global emergency in the fight against terrorism, legitimising more and more suspensions of legal and other rights?

The ominous aspect of John Ashcroft’s recent claim that ‘terrorists use America’s freedom as a weapon against us’ carries the obvious implication that we should limit our freedom in order to defend ourselves. Such statements from top American officials, especially Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, together with the explosive display of ‘American patriotism’ after 11 September, create the climate for what amounts to a state of emergency, with the occasion it supplies for a potential suspension of rule of law, and the state’s assertion of its sovereignty without ‘excessive’ legal constraints. America is, after all, as President Bush said immediately after 11 September, in a state of war.

The problem is that America is, precisely, not in a state of war, at least not in the conventional sense of the term (for the large majority, daily life goes on, and war remains the exclusive business of state agencies). With the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace thus effectively blurred, we are entering a time in which a state of peace can at the same time be a state of emergency.
The CIA report, and the persistent "state of emergency" that was used to legitimate the crimes detailed therein, exists in the same moral, ethical, and cognitive space, as those white people which are stuck in the White Gaze, and twisted by white racial paranoiac thinking, who can watch the video of Eric Garner being choked to death, and subsequently reason that he is responsible for his own death.

The banality of evil is shown by the spokespeople and defenders of the CIA who are more concerned that wicked (and ineffective) torture was "understandable" in the context of America's fear of terrorism, and that those personnel who committed such deeds will be "unfairly" persecuted.

Fear as the justification for cruelty and evil is a common defense. It is deployed by both the nation state and individuals. Darren Wilson, the police killers of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and other white authorities retreat as a function of habit and training to this plea of "reasonable" fear (as processed through White racial logic) when they kill unarmed black and brown people.

It is empty and possesses little moral weight. Fear as a defense for wrong-doing is a surrender to cowardice and the most low thinking, practices that are more akin to that of impulsive instinct-driven beasts than human beings who imagine themselves as possessing the highest and most evolved capacity for reason.

Half of the American people have succumbed to the banality of evil and the cultural logic of torture.

A new poll by Pew Research details how:

Amid intense debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, public opinion about this issue remains fairly stable. Currently, nearly half say the use of torture under such circumstances is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.
Here, civil virtue and commonsense have been betrayed by fear mongering and manipulation: the American people are legitimating and rationalizing the very policies (directly through the physical act of torture; culturally through a numbing to poverty, human suffering, and an abandonment of a humane society) that have been and will en masse be turned against them in an era of Austerity and Inverted Totalitarianism.

There are many questions that cannot be asked within the limits of the approved American public discourse.

A basic definition of terrorism is the use of violence and fear to accomplish a political goal.

What if the language of "terrorist" and "torture" were applied to the behavior of the United States government and the American people both at home and abroad? Would the same justification for torture remain?

American exceptionalism--and nationalism more generally--can through arbitrary distinctions of territory, and the various colors of dye on a piece of fabric called a flag, make what is deemed to be wrong in one context legitimate and acceptable in another. The distorting of morality, reason, and ethics through nationalism makes the above questions verboten in American public discourse. This does not mean that such questions ought not to be asked or related scenarios explored.

White racial terrorism against people of color was and remains the norm in American life, society, and culture.

The Ku Klux Klan has been (and likely remains) the largest terrorist organization in the history of the United States.

For centuries, white slave patrollers intimidated, harassed, and killed both black human property as well as free people. American Apartheid, that period from the establishment of America as a slave society in the 17th century, through to the softening of legal white supremacy and the resulting colorblind and institutional systems of white racial advantage in the post civil rights era, use(d) violence--and the threat of violence--to intimidate and control the African-American community.

In the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama, America's police have continued with their historic mission of maintaining the colorline through committing acts of both interpersonal and institutional terrorism and violence against black and brown people.

The killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and those hundreds and thousands of others (so many dead, which given the lack of police accountability and transparency, may never be fully and publicly known) killed at least once every 28 hours in the United States serve the political goal of maintaining state custodial citizenship, providing human beings for the profits to made by the prison industrial complex, and satisfying the psychological wages of whiteness in the form of "law and order" and a sense of safety and security from black people in a hyper-segregated society.

Torture as public policy by America's police and prisons has been condemned by groups such as Amnesty International and the United Nations:

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly. 
The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager. 
The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement. 
Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
Incidents of torture by the police against black and brown people are many.

In 1997, New York cops tortured Abner Louima, by anally raping him with a broomstick:

One officer, Justin A. Volpe, admitted in court in May 1999 that he had rammed a broken broomstick into Mr. Louima’s rectum and then thrust it in his face. He said he had mistakenly believed that Mr. Louima had punched him in the head during a street brawl outside a nightclub in Flatbush, but he acknowledged that he had also intended to humiliate the handcuffed immigrant. He left the force and was later sentenced to 30 years in prison. The commanders of the 70th Precinct were replaced within days of the assault. As the legal case wore on, Charles Schwarz, a former police officer, was sentenced in federal court in 2002 to five years in prison for perjury stemming from the torture case. A jury found that Mr. Schwarz had lied when he testified that he had not taken Mr. Louima to the station house bathroom where the assault took place.

Mr. Louima, who was born in Thomassin, Haiti, in 1966, and immigrated to New York in 1991, suffered a ruptured bladder and colon and spent two months in the hospital. The charges against him were dropped.
More than 100 black men in Chicago were tortured by police over the course of several decades in order to force them to give false confessions:
Men who say they were tortured by Chicago police into confessing to crimes they did not commit are renewing calls for compensation from the city. 
They held a news conference Thursday to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance establishing a $20 million fund to torture victims who didn't qualify for settlements because of the statute of limitations. 
More than 100 men have accused former police commander Jon Burge and officers under his command of shocking, suffocating and beating them into giving false confessions. Burge has never been criminally charged with torture. 
But he is serving a 4 1/2 -year sentence for lying about the torture in a civil case, and was scheduled to leave prison on Thursday to serve the remainder of his time in a halfway house.
Michael Brown's body laying in the street for four hours; Eric Garner's plea for mercy that "I can't breath!"; the sodomizing of Abner Louima; the tortures that are day-to-day policy in America's prisons and jails; police brutality and militarization; the beatings, anal force feeding, sensory deprivation, drownings, and other cruelties detailed by the CIA torture report, are part of a broader culture of cruelty where human life is cheapened and debased.

Moreover, the culture of cruelty is international and domestic. On both terrains, it is far easier for the American state and its representatives to torture and render other violence against non-whites. White racial logic deems it acceptable to kill some nebulous brown Muslim "terrorist" Other in the same way thatunarmed black men are transformed into "giant negroes" with superhuman strength who are demonically possessed while they supposedly attack white police officers.

If the Pew survey is correct--and half of the American people actually believe that "terrorists" from abroad should be tortured--then philosophical consistency should demand the same treatment for (white) American terrorists at home who harass, kill, or otherwise benefit from institutional and interpersonal white on black and brown violence by police and the state.

Such a suggestion may be met with shock or upset by those who are afraid to ask foundational questions about human decency and the Common Good outside of the comforting blinders of flag-waving nationalism and the panoply of myths which sustain a belief that America is "the best country on Earth".

Torture is wrong. It is unacceptable when done against "terrorists" or other "enemies of the state" abroad. Torture and terrorism are unacceptable when done by the United States government, police, or other representatives against its black and brown citizens and communities, as well as white folks too.

Moral consistency is the simplest of principles and behaviors; it is also very difficult for many Americans, especially those drunk on American exceptionalism and Right-wing authoritarianism, to comprehend and understand.

This is the failure of national character that made the horrors detailed in the CIA torture report possible.

All Americans of conscience should decry, condemn, and hold accountable the individuals, government behavior, and cruel policies detailed in the CIA torture report. Those same Americans of conscience should demand accountability from the police who kill unarmed and innocent black and brown people.

"Not in my name!" is a slogan and command for America's broken foreign policies to be corrected.

"Not in my name!" should be shouted (and acted upon) by all of our white brothers and sisters at the police thugs who are engaging in racial terrorism against the black community.

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