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Cheney and Torture

April 17, 2009

Mark Danner’s long article in the New York Review of Books describes in detail the interrogation and torture techniques contained in the Red Cross Report on the treatment of 14 high value detainees held in CIA custody. It is also a damning analysis of the authority and systemic support for such measures provided by the Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney. According to Danner, torture was not a rogue activity conducted by a few overly aggressive troops on the ground; it was not even an isolated tactic used against the worst detainees in an attempt to secure information that was necessary to protect American lives. Instead, the imposition of torture was a routinized part of US information collection. The use of these techniques had a corollary effect as well. Its use at the behest of the Bush administration was meant to underscore the authority of the Presidency and to clearly reject the authority of international law to bind the United States executive. In other words, the use of torture had as its goal, besides the collection of information, the establishment of a precedent decoupling the US from international law wherever and whenever the American president deemed that law to limit this country’s freedom to defend itself, in whatever manner deemed necessary or prudent by that president. In that sense, Cheney and his colleagues don’t sheepishly admit to overstepping overly strict interrogation boundaries imposed by the international legal community. Instead, they proudly revel in the forceful actions they took to protect American citizens. This debate, then, while about the treatment of prisoners in American custody, is about more than that. This debate is about the philosophical meaning of America. Who are we? What do we do? What are our values? What will we never do? And, what is fundamentally true about American-ness, if anything? It is not an exaggeration, in my opinion, to argue that how we decide to respond to the revelations contained in the Red Cross report and the Bush administration memos will be an irrevocable revelation of a fundamental component of the American character.

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