EDITORIAL: Power, humiliation and torture

Power, humiliation and torture

In the wake of 9/11, no phrase more succinctly projected the upwelling of popular jingoism across the United States than the words “Power of Pride.”

America needed to reassert its potency after experiencing the insult and humiliation of witnessing its power simultaneously centralized and instantaneously crushed when two drab towers acquired their national and international iconic significance in the very same moment that they collapsed.

As American power symbolically turned to a cloud of dust, its leaders scurried around in a desperate effort to salvage their authority and reclaim their dominance.

It now appears that central to that process was a calculated effort through which senior members of the Bush administration would restore their own pride and purge their own humiliation by torturing those who had collaborated in the attacks.

The fact that the CIA’s torture program was claimed to merely use “harsh interrogation” techniques was not simply a way of asserting that the legal threshold of torture had not been crossed. By using the term “interrogation” the issue of sadistic retribution was effectively screened out of consideration.

Even those who were critical of the approach the administration had adopted were inclined to confine those criticisms to questions such as whether these coercive methods would have any chance of yielding valuable intelligence. Alternatively they might press a patriotic argument by suggesting that torture was un-American.

The assumption inside the administration was that if its harsh methods could be presented as having been effective in preventing subsequent acts of terrorism, then pragmatic Americans would have less concern about the moral qualms of the administration’s critics — individuals who could be dismissed as civil liberties fanatics.

The moral question of whether the state can be allowed to use torture as a method of extra-judicial punishment and retribution rarely if ever entered the debate. But the evidence now suggests that it should.

We now learn that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

The New York Times has reported:

Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case….

…the use of repeated waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah was ordered “at the direction of CIA headquarters,” and officials were dispatched from headquarters “to watch the last waterboard session.”

The memo, written in 2005 and signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, concluded that the waterboarding was justified even if the prisoner turned out not to know as much as officials had thought.

And he did not, according to the former intelligence officer involved in the Abu Zubaydah case. “He pleaded for his life,” the official said. “But he gave up no new information. He had no more information to give.”

A line of command and a set of orders is one way of attempting to explain how it could come about that a man would be waterboarded day after day. Yet the significance of what was taking place at that time was implicit rather than explicit. What mattered most was what was left unstated.

Within a relatively short period, Zubaydah would have learned that as agonizing as waterboarding might be, it was something he could survive. In about the same amount of time, his torturers would have learned that there was no more information they could extract.

And yet the torture continued, day in, day out, multiple times a day.

Cheney knew. Bush knew. Rumsfeld knew.

Each day might yield no new intelligence but for those who had been most deeply humiliated by 9/11, unremitting waterboarding provided its own rewards.

To be able to say, “carry on” — with no reasonable justification — was to silently know: I have the power to exact retribution.

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13 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: Power, humiliation and torture

  1. mutt

    A pretty disgusting bunch, those Wingnut icons. They deserve life in prison for ordering this. Those who “followed orders”- well, it seems the New Boss has made them immune. While I hold them at a lesser level of guilt than the creepycrawlies in the WH, I dont think we need them on the Gvt payroll. They might do some good giving talks around the country that “I was just following orders” is as contemptable now as it was 60 years ago.
    The order follwers of the Reich & Imperial Japan can credibly say they faced death or imprisonment for not followingsuch orders, what did our own “good Germans” face?

  2. Ian Arbuckle

    Your discourse is based on presumption of concerted logic, which does also make sense if seen in a different scenario.

    The 9-11 jumping off point that changed all and justified the gloves being removed, in itself depended on a great illusion which is missing the essential burdens of proof. After 7 years, to the volumes of other incontestable scientific data which debunk the “official conspiracy theory”, namely that of 19 terrorist highjackers, and a mythical organization called Al Qaeda, lead by a spectre called Osama Bin Laden being at its head was totally responsible for having managed to demolish three World Trade Centre Buildings with the impact of two aircraft, has been added the Danish scientific analysis by Niels Harrit of just that “cloud of dust” that those buildings were turned into. It appears, the dust shows irrefutable, and not surprisingly to many, that the buildings where “armed” with between 10 and 100 tons of nano-thermite, a high temperature explosive substance used for cutting steel supports in controlled demolition.

    This revelation has had little to no traction in America nor on major international media for various but obvious reasons:


    This further revelation supports, yet again, the contention that 9-11 was not the unexpected event it was purported to be by authorities. Some detailed planning and logistics had to have been carried out at some level inside America and certainly inside those buildings to insure the dramatic collapse of these “iconic” structures. Such collaboration seems most unlikely to have been directed by a rebellious rich Saudi extremist terrorist leader in Afghanistan. In short the 9-11 fairy story appears to be an elaborate lie. The only possible conclusion is that the World Trade Centres were brought down by controlled demolition, irrespective of being hit by aircraft.

    That said, the rest of the story is about how an administration bent on a loosely defined but global war, to further clear goals of imperial dominance and military adventurism used this event, while on one side whipping a local population into racist/xenophobic hate and fear for them to throw away logic, rational, and the rule of law as well as their constitution, moreover willingly hurtle down a path of mindless war and destruction, while on the other hand to the outer world providing all the worst demonstrations of hubris, inhumanity, defilement of all that is held important especially to the Muslim populations of the middle east already pummelled by the irrationality of the Palestinian injustice. Torture and indefinite internment of “Al Qaeda suspects” has to be seen in the context of just another act of American barberry to further stimulate the extreme resentment felt in the Muslim world against the Amero-Zionist tyrranical imperialists.

    After the initial “pump priming event” and without more WTCs or Pentagons being “staged”, the global war on terror had to be self-sustaining by natural growth of actual hate of America by “real” Muslim extremists willing to join an apparent global Jihad, or holly war, and so Al Qaeda related events started popping up here then there, some very micky-mouse and finally even the name Al Qaeda is adopted in Iraq, and the whole thing now justifies itself as the circle is closed.

    But it is necessary to see here torture in its context at the centre in its effect on mass psychology. It is of little importance who is tortured or why. Of course, it seems obvious that the US government should know torture is of little practical use as an intelligence tool. But the effect of torture on the global audience is the useful part to stimulate that essential fear, and hate on one side against America, and is justified as the retribution on the other.

    Could the US government have developed such grand lies so successfully or go quite so low it its pursuit of a New American Century? We know now that the entire cold war was a lie and the Global War on Terror was invented to replace it. The only think that frightens me more today is that the Obama administration continues to pretend to pursue the phantom Osama bin Laden, and the mythical Al Qaeda, as if a new sequel of this badly written and illogical fiction has to be played out to perpetuate the delusion.

    Must the show go on?

  3. la.vérité

    Intentionally inflicting physical pain on a human being is the most immoral thing to do, ticking bomb or not ( convenient expression used by those justifying torture ). Wonder if the advocates of torture would be as enthusiastic about its utility if they had under gone ONE SINGLE experince of the same. One has to really wonder about the morality of our leaders who recommended it.

  4. DE Teodoru

    Those who did the torturing are those trying to cover-up their incompetence. Who recalls that we had a spade of sakyjackings in the 1970s or that laws were passed to make the pilot’s cabin impenetrable and put two sky-marshals on every airliner? With corporate greed at work nobody wanted the cost or retrofitting the planes. Riding First Class between the coasts the shahids to be discovered that the door to the pilot’s cabin is always open. The rest is history: FOUR AIRLINERS SEIZED IN TEN MINUTES EACH AND PILOTED AS MISSILES. The torture was all a desperate effort to get alQaeda in order to cover-up Gov/Corp criminal negligence. *SECRECY* exists mostly to cover-up. After Bush succeeded in covering that up with war, he covered-up the Wall Street crimes that killed our economy. Forgive but never forget!

  5. robertdfeinman

    The “kick the dog because the boss yelled at me” phenomena is well known in psychological circles. Here’s a brief article from Wikipedia (displacement):


    Part of the issue with Bushies is that the leaders (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld), in addition to being sociopaths, are also bullies. Bullies are cowards who are aggressive against only those who are weaker and more helpless than they are.

    Bush holds the record for the most executions performed while governor. He is on record joking about executing a prisoner.

    The deeper question is why does a nominally democratic society allow such people to get into positions of power and then to exercise it unchecked? Are we just too passive, or does democratic restraint just not function effectively?

  6. delia ruhe

    Gwynne Dyer, ever the realist, explains why none of this is going anywhere:

    Did you really think that Obama was going to unleash a legal process that would inevitably work its way up the chain of command and end by indicting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

    The United States is not a defeated power under foreign military occupation, and it is not going to put itself through all that. The torture has apparently now stopped in prisons that are under direct American control, and one hopes that serious efforts are being made by the U.S. government to retrieve those detainees whom the Bush administration “renditioned” to other governments for much worse tortures, but that’s as far as it’s going to go.

    We dream of a just world, but any grown-up knows that real life is very unfair. Good people suffer, the wicked prosper, and most crimes go unpunished.

    When the criminals are the servants of a government that has gone off the rails, it is even harder to punish the guilty because most of them can argue that they were only obeying orders.

    Moreover, the new government, faced with the decision to prosecute the criminals or not, will always put the stability and security of its own rule first.


  7. Seth Farber, Ph.D.

    Intersting commentary by Paul Woodward and others.
    I call your attention to a recent article in Counterpunch re release of the torture memos;http://www.counterpunch.org/soldz04212009.html
    “It turned out to be harder than I expected to find the complete texts of the statements made by President Obama, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and CIA Director Leon Panetta on Thursday as the Office of Legal Council torture memos were being released. Thanks to Spencer Ackerman , I have located them and post them here.
    Reading these statements in their entirety, they are as chilling as the memos themselves. While the memos describe the torture program in meticulous, bureaucratic detail — including the temperature of water to be used to chill people, and the length and number of waterboarding episodes permitted per day — the statements from our [new] President and two of his top officials heap praise upon those who were all to willing to sacrifice their morals and decency in pursuit of this horrific program. …” It’s bad enough there will be no prosecutions but to praise those who were “merely following orders” is moraly perverse.
    I would also make 2 other points–the participation of “psychologists” in torture. As a dissident psychologist who found it was iimpossible to work in the public sector WITHOUT doing harm (in violation of professional ethics and Hippocratic oath) I find this willingness of psychologists to participate in torture to be most revealing. In the public sector psychologists work with psychiatrists in service of big drug companies to legitimize the prescription of harmful “medications” to an increasing number of people–now 2 year old “bi-polar” toddlers. In Gitmo they use their skills to help extract bogus confessions from “enemies” of the State, and they used their credibility as “doctors of the mind” to legitimize torture. For those who still trust mental health professionals, this should serve as a cautionary tale.
    Thirdly, I disagree with Paul that the motive of Cheney et al was “retribution.” Whether one agrees with myriad claims of 9-11 Truthers or not, it is obvious that 9-11 was a boon for Cheney and Bush and the neo-cons, the new Pearl Harbor they had dreamed about. The mentally challenged Bush gave the game away several times after 9–11 when he said he hit the trifecta on 9–11. Had the authorities wanted to prevent 9–11, clearly they could have done so. I cannot figure out these guys’ motives for torture–other than the pleasure they derived from knowing they were inflicting suffering, and perhaps the desire to inflame the Islamic world. We know they are sadists, but their sadism was not motivated for a desire for “vengeance”–because they wanted 9-11 to happen! Maybe the kooky new age political analyst David Icke is correct. Maybe Cheney is a “shape shifting lizard” whose motives are beyond the comprehension of human beings.
    It is noteworthy that the US was trained in torture tactics by the Israelis, the Mossad. The US used the same tactics the Israeli Judeo-Nazis use against the Palestinian Arabs who resist their domination.

  8. Larry Scott

    Sorry, as despicable as torture is, this is still a distraction from what really matters.

    Bush, Cheney, Rumsfled, McCain, and many others ALL know Planet X is here and has been since 2003 and is supposed to cause a catastrophic pole shift before 2012.

    How come there are not tons of stories in the mass media about this? It affects every single human being on this planet, but NOTHING, day after day. I have seen Planet X with my own eyes many times, and you will see it yourself soon enough and then YOU will be asking my question yourself.

  9. flem

    I think Bush and Co. were using torture to get other people to confess to crimes Bush and Co. had committed.

  10. adam sandreen

    So why german nazies were hanged? The gloves were off-does it justify everything? Or it is just a matter who wins or who has more power? If so, at it appears to be, why are you people assume such moral poses?

  11. Nicolae

    Ex-Italy Pres – 9-11 Was
    CIA/Mossad Operation
    By the Staff of American Free Press

    Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, who revealed the existence of Operation Gladio, has told Italy’s oldest and most widely read newspaper that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were run by the CIA and Mossad, and that this was common knowledge among global intelligence agencies. In what translates awkwardly into English, Cossiga told the newspaper Corriere della Sera:

    “All the (intelligence services) of America and Europeknow well that the disastrous attack has been planned and realized from the Mossad, with the aid of the Zionist world in order to put under accusation the Arabic countries and in order to induce the western powers to take part in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Cossiga was elected president of the Italian Senate in July 1983 before winning a landslide election to become president of the country in 1985, and he remained until 1992.

    Cossiga’s tendency to be outspoken upset the Italian political establishment, and he was forced to resign after revealing the existence of, and his part in setting up, Operation Gladio. This was a rogue intelligence network under NATO auspices that carried out bombings across Europe in the 1960s, 1970s and ’80s. Gladio’s specialty was to carry out what they termed “false flag” operations-terror attacks that were blamed on their domestic and geopolitical opposition.

    In March 2001, Gladio agent Vincenzo Vinciguerra stated, in sworn testimony, “You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple: to force the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security.”

    Cossiga first expressed his doubts about 9-11 in 2001, and is quoted by 9-11 researcher Webster Tarpley saying “The mastermind of the attack must have been a sophisticated mind, provided with ample means not only to recruit fanatic kamikazes, but also highly specialized personnel. I add one thing: it could not be accomplished without infiltrations in the radar and flight security personnel.”

    Coming from a widely respected former head of state, Cossiga’s assertion that the 9-11 attacks were an inside job and that this is common knowledge among global intelligence agencies is illuminating. It is one more eye-opening confirmation that has not been mentioned by America’s propaganda machine in print or on TV. Nevertheless, because of his experience and status in the world, Cossiga cannot be discounted as a crackpot.


  12. musings

    Ian Arbuckle writes well and compellingly, but he should employ a spell-check program. I agree with most of his arguments, but I would prefer that they be better dressed when they come into court. The “judge” is more likely to listen to someone in a suit and tie rather than in a t-shirt and jeans no matter how truthful. Carry on, indeed.

  13. musings

    Re: Seth Farber, Ph. D. – I myself am not a psychologist. But I have two tales to bear here.
    One: I was in a group of medical doctors in Washington, DC, at a prestigious national assembly, self-selected for a luncheon in which one of their subcommittees was looking into the issue of the role of MD’s in torture at Gitmo. I thought this would be a hard-hitting attack on the Bush administration, but how naive I was. They were actually too ambitious for that, knowing that they what could not be cured must be endured (and hoping to prosper even from that). They decided to debate whether forced feeding of suspects who had gone on hunger strikes was torture. This was apparently the “only” thing MD’s were involved in at Gitmo, or at least to them the most debatable. You heard some truly heart-rending “confessions” of torture by doctors present, who had force-fed anorexics. Yeah, that was it. End of story, so far as I know.

    Here’s another tale: I talk to a relative who is a shrink about one of our common ancestors, a magistrate in the Puritan town of New Haven, who hanged a man for bestiality. I told her we should probably go to the hanged man’s descendants even three hundred years later and apologize. The reason he was hanged was that a woman had bought a sow from him who was pregnant. When the pig gave birth, one of her piglets had a flat face due to a fatal malformation of the jaw, so that it resembled a pink baby. She charged that the farmer who had sold it to her must have had sex with the sow and produced this monster. My relative, who is very pleased to work for the same state in which our magistrate ancestor rendered his false and fatal judgment, regularly deals with prisoners who have psychological problems. She was not so eager to apologize for the killing of this man, even though it was in the 17th century, because she said perhaps someone had seen him having sex with his animals, and that is where the suspicion had arisen.

    I can only say that the powerful have powerful help in our credulity, our willingness to suspend disbelief and to project. And those of us who seek employment from the “system” have a powerful reason not to criticize it. There were better days for American after the series of Puritan witch trials, but the principles have never seriously been attacked. And of course, as in the 17th century (in which an English king wrote on witchcraft), there are people abroad who for reasons of state, want us to be witchcraft torturers.

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