American Amnesia (Hypocrisy?) Regarding Torture

“Why We Can’t See the Trees or the Forest: The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia.” A good analysis from Noam Chomsky, loaded with historical anecdotes long-lost from the American political psyche, I’m sure.

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so. For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law - a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously.


Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but “merely repositioned it,” restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. “[H]is is a return to the status quo ante,” writes Nairn, “the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more U.S.-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.”

Sometimes the American engagement in torture was even more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that U.S. aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,… to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation. Not surprisingly, U.S. aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, commonly improved by the murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies took place before the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear.

Small wonder that President Obama advises us to look forward, not backward — a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

There is a reader who posted comments in response to this article about it having been easier during the Cold War to dismiss Chomsky as a leftist ideologue, but that today his writing seems much more reasonable and accurate. I agree. I am definitely another of those who found his analysis to be much easier to dismiss during that period than today, now that the veil of anti-communist resistance has been ripped off the festering hypocrisy that underlies American policies.

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