The reason that Darius Rejali’s article in the Boston Globe about torture is important comes at the end, the possibility of suppressing its use.
Still, history shows that the cycle of torture can be broken. Americans put an end to most domestic torture between 1930 and 1950. We did this, in part, by exposing torture. The American Bar Association's 1931 report transformed American law and policing. The document was cited in court decisions; newspapers and true crime books drew on the group's investigations to educate the public as to what the modern face of torture was. And police chiefs instituted more checks on police behavior, including clear punishments for violations of the law and regular medical inspections for detainees.
Many European states now have reasonably good records on torture precisely because they call torture techniques by their proper names, give them histories, and institute strong domestic and international monitoring of police, prisons, and asylums. The French have a far better human rights record now than they did in the 1960s, even if it is by no means perfect. There is no reason why America cannot restore its own reputation.
The biggest surprise, perhaps, is that torturers care what the public thinks. For more than a century torturers have voted with their hands: Governments that continue to use torture have moved to techniques that leave little trace. The same public pressure - built on unequivocal disapproval - should eventually be able to bring an end to this sorry history. Strange as it may seem, torturers and their apologists really do care.
It’s a hard article to read, going into some detail about methods, including the water boarding that our Attorney General doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind about. Rejali gives some examples of how the refinement of modern tortures seems to advance when “democracies” impose colonial rule on unwilling populations and how it is brought back home by the soldiers who become accustomed to using it when they join the police. This is an example of the truth of Mark Twain’s statement that you can have democracy or you can have an empire but you can’t have both. Maybe if you give up the empire you can get democracy back. But that's going to be hard work.
In related news, no doubt we've all heard that FOX’s 24 star is spending the holidays in jail. Kiefer Sutherland’s celebrity work on behalf of the cause of torture isn’t the reason, more’s the pity. Glamorizing torture, making the infliction of terrible pain sexy and heroic should earn the creep an indictment for crimes against humanity. Or, probably more feared in his circles, the kind of oblivion that Hollywood reserves for the blond starlets it chews up and spits out so profligately. But as he has a penis show biz history shows that fascist chic is a road to eternal employment. You caught Chuck on Huck?
For any Canadians in the audience, what do you make of Kiefer being an active NDP supporter? No, me neither.