Editor’s Comment — If the immortal line from the Clinton presidency was, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” George Bush may be most remembered for his emphatic lie, “This government does not torture people.” But rather than this result in the Congressional pageantry of impeachment proceedings, it seems to me far preferable that Bush, Cheney, and the other principals in the creation of the torture presidency, face judgment in a court of law — one which provides them with the legal rights they have deprived from others, and one which if they are convicted shows no leniency and forces accountability on those who have always operated as though they have absolute impunity.
With that in mind, it’s now worth revisiting an excellent essay by Scott Horton, tracing the history of torture and secrecy, in which he wrote:
The practice of secret courts. The use of torture to secure confessions. The receipt of secret evidence. The exclusion of the public from proceedings. The offering of evidence in the form of summaries delivered to the judges, without the defendant being able to confront the evidence or conduct a cross-examination. These practices were the definition of tyrannical injustice to the Puritan fathers and the Founding Fathers. We thought them long-banished a hundred years and more before our own revolution. And now suddenly here they are again.
Secrecy has reemerged just as torture has made its comeback, being justified on the public stage, by government officials for the first time since the famous gathering at the Inns of Court in 1629 at which the judges declared “upon their and their nation’s honor” that torture was not permitted by the common law.
The two fit together, hand in glove: torture and secrecy. Torture and secrecy. Where one is used, the other is indispensable.
Torture is no longer a tool of statecraft. Today it is a tool of criminals, though sometimes of criminals purporting to conduct the affairs of state. Having resorted to these “dark arts,” to quote Dick Cheney, the torturers now have the dilemma faced so frequently by criminals. They seek to cover it up. And so the path flows from torture to secrecy, the twin dark stars of the tyrannical state.