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There Is No Defense For Torture

| by Emanuel E. Garcia

(April 27, 2014, Wellington , Sri Lanka Guardian) Call me naïve.

In the aftermath of 9/11, when the first pictures of souls detained at Guantanamo Bay were made available, I felt like retching. Forget about the abomination of a legal limbo created in that hell, which I later came to learn: it was the sight of human beings subjected to humiliation and physical agony I had thought our rule of law had been established to prevent. It was the bulwark, so I believed, that accounted for a certain American exceptionalism, that no matter what crime one may have been alleged to commit, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and a treatment with decency would be safeguarded.

Certainly I suspected secret abrogations of these tenets, but now, in full view of the world, the government – as distinct from ‘We, the people’ who had no say – openly apprehended suspects, tortured them, refused them any right to legal representation and prevented any independent investigations into the proceedings. And on a more massive front, of course, were the convenient invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that, under Nuremberg principles, easily qualify as war crimes of detestable abomination.

It is, however, the evisceration of legal safeguards for the individual, as embodied by the promulgation of torture and the arrogation of extrajudicial power to murder alleged terrorists, that threatens more comprehensively to undo anything approaching a semblance of democracy, for it is the undoing of a line of achievement that began with the Magna Carta.

The standards by which torture and murder should be protested are moral ones, and yet the dialog about these criminal activities has now been couched in terms of ‘efficacy’. Opponents of extrajudicial killing and torture cite evidence that these have been ineffective as tools of prevention of terrorist activity (not unlike opponents of privacy-violating NSA activities). But this perspective itself is a warped one that misses the fundamental point, that there are certain inalienable rights to which individuals are entitled, without exception, regardless of time and place, circumstances or conditions.

Those who, like James Mitchell, defend torture on the grounds of efficacy, are indefensible, as are those who, with grave and routine malice, subject thousands of prisoners to sleep-deprivation, humiliation and solitary confinement.

When the State arrogates unto itself the power to violate these fundamental human rights, and furthermore to cloak its machinations in secrecy, it is sending the message that power has become the law of the land: in fact, the only law. This is Empire, not democracy.

And unless we face this fact and work assiduously to overturn the depredations of State, through legal restitution of humanitarian principles ‘protected’ by the Constitution, Empire it shall be, even though the word ‘democracy’ will be on the lips of its chieftains who delight in the abolition of entitlements to privacy, habeas corpus, presumption of innocence and, even, to life itself.

Dr. Garcia is a psychoanalyst and writer who now resides in New Zealand.