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Friday, November 18, 2016

Of course he's going to torture

by digby

I wrote about it for Salon today:

One of the most active conversations these days among political activists who oppose Donald Trump is about the extent to which Democrats should “work with” the new president, considering his white nationalist, authoritarian campaign and the people with whom he has surrounded himself. It’s both a strategic and a moral question, and the potential complications and rewards run in a number of different directions. Salon’s Simon Maloy addressed some of the problems in this piece on Thursday.

I tend to be in the “resist across the board” camp, because I greatly fear the normalization of the Trump administration. By normalization I mean not only the adoption of his draconian policies and cretinous behaviors as acceptable for leaders in our democracy, but also the abandonment of long-held norms that held the whole thing together. You cannot have a civil society based only on laws. People must believe that a basic level of decency and trust exists among our fellow human beings or it just doesn’t work. (Brian Beutler explores this subject in depth in this piece for the New Republic.)

But let’s be honest. Trump is not the first leader to break with the norms we all took for granted. Republicans have been pushing that envelope ever since they came into power in 1994 and used their House majority to stage a years-long witch hunt against Bill Clinton, which culminated in an embarrassing sideshow of an impeachment over a private sexual matter. They followed up by seizing the presidency under very dubious circumstances, blatantly using the levers of power, both partisan and familial, to do it. Then came the Iraq war, the most abusive break with norms of all, a deeply immoral decision to use a catastrophic terrorist attack as an excuse to fulfill a long-held, but irrelevant, foreign policy objective. We’ve been on shaky ground for a while.

But in my mind for all the broken norms, the one that is the most destructive of moral authority and civilization is the normalization of torture. I still find it stunning that we talk about it matter-of-factly as if it were an argument about whether or not to fund a highway bill rather than the grotesquely sadistic practice it is. A prohibition against torture wasn’t just a “norm” — torture was taboo, something so far outside of our understanding of right and wrong that it was beyond discussion, like pedophilia or cannibalism.

This is not to say Americans never did it, of course. It has happened at the hands of police and prison guards and in war zones around the world. It’s an ugly human impulse that’s always been with us. But until the Bush administration it had not been officially sanctioned for over half a century, since the Allies tried German and Japanese officers for the torture they inflicted on prisoners of war in World War II. Torture is a war crime under international treaty, and a felony under domestic law.

When the Bush administration tortured terrorist suspects they didn’t admit what they were doing was torture, of course. But it was. They kept it a secret and created an elaborate legal framework to justify it. They destroyed video evidence of it. But regardless of their willingness to commit these war crimes, (based, by the way, on the advice of amateur hustlers who had no expertise in interrogation) they understood that this was a taboo that decent human beings could not countenance. Only Vice President Dick Cheney, the immoral conscience of the administration, boldly asserted that the thought waterboarding was a “no-brainer,” although he too insisted it wasn’t torture.

And sadly, despite ending the practice upon taking office, the Obama administration didn’t require any accountability for what had happened and the whole question was swept under the rug. Indeed, the administration fought the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s torture report and to this day have kept the full report under wraps. And so it became further normalized — never punished or fully repudiated — leaving it there for someone to come along and pick right up where the Bush administration left off.

Our next president is downright eager and excited to do it.He has proclaimed that he loves waterboarding, and has repeatedly promised to do “a lot more than that” as president. Despite all evidence to the contrary he insists that it works and “if it doesn’t work they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” He has hinted broadly that he would even consider beheading, because his primary strategy is to be as brutal as ISIS in prove we are stronger than they are. He is a true believer in the practice of torture, out and proud, and will tell anyone who’ll listen that the America he will lead is a nation that tortures.

He has taken it to even darker levels than that, if it’s possible. Trump repeated a tall tale that’s swirled around the right-wing fever swamps for years about Gen. Jack Pershing summarily executing Muslim insurgents during the Spanish-American War:

He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, OK?

Trump has promised to “go after” the wives and families of terrorist suspects saying, “I guess your definition of what I’d do, I’m going to leave that to your imagination.”

All the names the Trump transition team have floated for national security and foreign policy jobs are open to some form of torture. Rudy Giuliani isenthusiastic about it, as is former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is being considered as CIA director, said he thinks Congress and the administration could work it out. Trump’s newly named national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, was non-committal about his personal beliefs but thinks the president should be able to threaten torture and war crimes as a negotiating stance.

The best you can say is that there is no longer any consensus that torture and war crimes are immoral taboos. There are still people who think it’s wrong, of course. But there are also those, like the president-elect or Sen. Tom Cotton, who believe such tactics should be used without restraint. It’s “controversial.”

Our new president won the office repeating lurid tales of torture, assassination and mass murder to cheering crowds, and promising to deploy those tactics if he won the White House. That’s now mainstream political thought in America. But he wasn’t the one who started it. We’ve been watching this slow-motion train wreck for a while. It just finally went off the rails.

Update: Trump announced the new CIA director today. It's Congressman Mike Pompeo. Here's what he believes about torture, surveillance, Gitmo etc:

Pompeo on the release of the 2014 Senate torture report:

“Our men and women who were tasked to keep us safe in the aftermath of 9/11 — our military and our intelligence warriors — are heroes, not pawns in some liberal game being played by the ACLU and Senator Feinstein,” Pompeo said in a statement on Dec. 9, 2014. “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots. The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution, and conducted with the full knowledge Senator Feinstein. If any individual did operate outside of the program’s legal framework, I would expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“It is hard to imagine a sound reason that Senator Feinstein would put American operators and their families at risk—by demanding the release of details that are not in any way related to the legality or appropriateness of the programs. The intelligence collection programs described in the report have been in the news and hot topics for discussion for years. The sad conclusion left open is that her release of the report is the result of a narcissistic self-cleansing that is quintessentially at odds with her duty to the country.

“Moreover, the release of this report makes our nation is less secure. Our friends and allies across the world, who have worked closely with us to crush the Islamic jihad that threatens every Kansan and every American, now know the United States government will not honor its commitments. Their willingness to work with us in the future is now greatly diminished.”

Pompeo on Guantanamo Bay:

“GTMO has been a goldmine of intelligence about radical Islamic terrorism. I have traveled to GTMO and have seen the honorable and professional behavior of the American men and women in uniform, who serve at the detention facility,” Pompeo said in a statement on Nov. 18. “The detainees at GTMO are treated exceptionally well – so well that some have even declined to be resettled, instead choosing to stay at GTMO. It is delusional to think that any plan the president puts before Congress to relocate radical Islamic terrorists to the U.S, and potentially Fort Leavenworth Kansas, will make our country safer. The reality is that this proposal will ultimately put Kansans and Americans in danger.”

Pompeo on the Iran deal:

“It’s not a question whether America can prevent a nuclear Iran or stop Russian aggression; it’s a question of whether (the Obama) administration has the backbone to use the tools and solutions available,” Pompeo said on Dec. 3, 2014. “Each of these nations poses real threats to America and the West – what is needed is not ambiguity, but clarity, forcefulness and commitments that do not exceed America’s willingness to fulfill them.

“Ayatollah Khamenei watches America allow Iran to expand its power while our President writes him missives ensuring we will protect Iran’s interests. This is dangerous. The Islamic Republic cannot even feed its own people without access to markets and our President rewards that nation, which has killed countless Americans, with sanctions relief. Congress should immediately act to stop all oil shipments out of Iran, reinstitute economic sanctions and demand that our allies do so as well. We should make clear that nuclear enrichment is not acceptable inside of Iran for any purpose and, as President Bush once said, those who harbor terrorists who kill Americans will be treated in the same manner as if they had committed the act of terror themselves.”

Pompeo on NSA spying:

“I believe that program has proven to be a very valuable asset for the intelligence community and for law enforcement,” Pompeo said in an interview with McClatchy in January. “We ought not to take that tool away from our intelligence community while the threats are as great as they are today.”

“(Americans) understood this was a monitoring program, and it’s not,” Pompeo said. “Not a single email was read or call was listened to without the due process the constitution requires.”