The appearance of the US Senate report on torture practices by the CIA in the US “War on Terror” has confirmed the scale of torture by this agency of the USA State. I’m pleased to have been an early voice (with Carolyn Kagan) in making the complicity of military psychologists and the American (sic see note 1) Psychology Association known this side of the Atlantic (note 2). The article wasn’t particularly original, its purpose being to communicate work done by others, especially those in the USA that were taking a stand against APA complicity.
In this short post I am going to make just two points.
1) The torture practices of State operatives are not primarily concerned with the extraction of information. We made this point in our article, captured in the title: torture is “more than a question of interrogation”. One of the conclusions made by the Senate report is that the use of torture did not yield useful information on the activities of terrorists. One might wonder if it would have been acceptable if it had: Zbigniew Brzezinski on the BBC tv programme Newsnight (15:58 minutes in) yesterday suggested that it would be, using the old chestnut of the “ticking bomb”. No, if it is wrong to torture people it is wrong. But that debate misses the fundamental reason why these methods have been developed. They were developed as part of the CIA’s”low intensity” field operations, that also employed killings and disappearances, bombings, razing of settlements principally in Vietnam and in Central America. They were used by the dictatorships of South America too. In all cases their purpose is to terrorise, to pacify, quieten, subdue the population. Word gets out about torture, with a mix of direct testimony and rumour. The steps to which the military power will go to become known. The British used similar methods in Kenya and elsewhere, and the French did in their colonies – notably Algeria. And as the same Newsnight programme reported (19:45 minutes in), the development of more subtle techniques of sensory and sleep deprivation that didn’t leave physical injuries were a speciality of the British State in Northern Ireland (exposed by British Psychologists), something exported by UK State Security operatives to the Brazilian junta.
2) But why the big emphasis on torture? The US, didn’t just torture prisoners (denied prisoner of war status) but they, with the UK and their other allies were responsible for the destruction of a country, its infrastructure, its health system, its civil society, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, most notably in Fallujah. One careful estimate suggest half a million Iraqi people died as a result of that needless invasion.
If we understand torture as part of a repertoire of imperialist domination, high or low intensity war, rather than seeing it as an exceptional appalling aberration then we can be clear that, while it must be condemned, it is the whole system that requires censure and opposition. We oppose torture as an evil and as part of the imperialist and neo-imperialist war on people and planet.
1) “American” is used carelessly in the USA to refer to that country. This is insulting to people from all the other American countries from the Arctic to the Antarctic. America is a continent, not a country.
2) Burton, M., & Kagan, C. (2007). Psychologists and torture: more than a question of interrogation. The Psychologist, 20(8), 484–487. link to text: http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-8/psychologists-and-torture-more-question-interrogation