Baltimore City Paper

Torture is normal. You should know this

Today the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released (here's the PDF) a voluminous report on the U.S. military and intelligence community's torture of suspects during the ongoing "War on Terror." The CIA and its minions are reportedly releasing a counter-narrative, arguing that "enhanced interrogation techniques" save lives and led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

The argument will rage, those claiming that 9/11 "changed everything" squaring off with those who say torture is immoral or, at least, counter-productive.


Here's MoJo's Kevin Drum tackling this limited question in perfect (predictable) pitch. Some time today a respected intelligence commentator will haul off and weigh in on the efficacy of torture, pointing to the dire threat posed by ISIS.

What few will say, though anyone can know this and everyone ought to, is that nothing much changed in September 2001. U.S. Special Forces and CIA agents, sometimes directing foreign fighters, sometimes in consultation with contracted physicians, have been torturing America's enemy du jour since at least WWII.


Torture is normal. Torture was normal in the 1990s. It was normal in the 1980s. Torture was a normal and accepted covert U.S. military intelligence policy in every decade going back to the 1950s.

This policy was somewhat secret only until the waning years of the Vietnam War, and was re-exposed nearly 20 years ago by The Baltimore Sun. In 1994, while investigating claims by victims of a Honduran death squad called Battalion 3-16, The Sun made a Freedom of Information request. In 1997, under threat of a lawsuit by the newspaper, the CIA coughed up its "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual," a 1983 playbook that recommended stripping prisoners naked to start.

The book was not news then. In the mid-1980s it had come to light after Catholic activists and other opponents of U.S. Central America policies got reporters curious. The '90s release had sloppy, hand-written notations on the torture instructions explaining that the techniques were disavowed, and detailed in the manual only to show the things We Must Never Do.

But the 1983 book was something of an update. The first CIA torture manual was called "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation" and was dated 1963, although previous methods and practices certainly existed.

Yet somehow, Americans continue to forget that torture is normal. Every revelation is novel, awakening anew the shattered pseudo innocence good people believe about their supposedly well-meaning country.

And so we debate this or that instance, this or that little war, and the extenuating circumstances our brave warriors therein confronted.

The media is awash today in headlines like "Officials fear torture report could spark violence." These officials act as if our enemies—the people we have tortured for generations—are as stupid and amnesiac as our own cosseted citizens.

Our news media concurs.


If it weren't so disgusting it would be hilarious.

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