Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity, instead of defying you.
~ Captain Jean-Luc Picard confronts Armus, Dick Cheney’s sci-fi soul mate.
En route to the Enterprise-D, a shuttlecraft carrying Counselor Deanna Troi malfunctioned and crash-landed on desolate Vagra II. The accident left Troi seriously wounded, and nearly killed the nondescript shuttle pilot (who was fortunate to survive, given that he was clad in the often-fatal red uniform). Her misfortune was complicated by the presence of a malevolent entity known as Armus — the congealed essence of sadistic evil.
Abandoned on Vagra II by a long-extinct race, Armus could re-arrange itself into a vaguely humanoid form. It could generate potent force fields and direct lethal energy discharges at anyone who provoked its displeasure. In appearance and substance, Armus somewhat resembled the Venom symbiote that afflicted Spider-Man (I write those words knowing that I am revealing myself to be an incurable sci-fi nerd).
Following its abandonment countless millennia ago, Armus degenerated into a being of pure rage and hatred. Troi and her Enterprise colleagues were the first to interrupt Armus’s prolonged exile, and he greeted his unexpected visitors in predictable fashion — by torturing them.
It’s tempting to think that Armus was a sci-fi analogue to Dick Cheney — a being formed from congealed malevolence whose only pleasure is taken from confining and tormenting other beings. Cheney’s background in the petroleum industry offers another point of metaphorical contact, given that Armus in repose looked like an oil slick.
Nevertheless, the parallel doesn’t quite work. Armus describes himself as a “skin of evil left here by a race of Titans who believed if they rid themselves of me, they would free the bonds of destructiveness.”
That race somehow devised a way “of bringing to the surface all that was evil and negative within, erupting, spreading, connecting. In time, it formed a second skin, dank and vile.”
At the risk of conferring undue legitimacy on Freud’s dogma, it may be best to describe Cheney as the Id of modern conservatism.
He isn’t the wretched residue cast off by the Red State Fascist sub-population; he is its depraved living essence, and his malignant influence pulsates through the executive branch even though a new administration is nominally in charge.
The routine criminal violence carried out in the name of “the war on terror” — summary execution of terrorist suspects by way of Langley’s death drones, the murder of handcuffed Afghan children by Washington’s death squads, as well as the institutionalization of unaccountable, dictatorial presidential war powers, and the creation of spurious legal doctrines denying personhood to prisoners accused of being “enemy combatants” — are fulfillment of Cheney’s decree that the U.S. government would take a turn to the “dark side” that would probably last for decades.
In similar fashion it could be said that those now enrolled in Washington’s apparatus of surveillance, detention, torture and murder are products of Cheney’s vision. They are creatures from the Id of contemporary conservatism, in which nothing is considered more important than preserving and enhancing Leviathan’s power to imprison, torture, and kill anyone designated an enemy of the State.
Torture produces little if any reliable intelligence. It is entirely unconstitutional and banned by both domestic law and international agreements. It is, however, a superb method to dehumanize individuals and force them to submit to whatever their captor demands.
More importantly, from the perspective of Cheney’s disciples, torture serves something of a sacramental function. The ritualized torment of those deemed to be irreconcilably alien (“they’re not citizens or even common criminals — they’re terrorists!”) is critical to establishing a sense of shared identity, a tangible way of distinguishing “them” from “us.”
Cognate public sentiments played a role in establishing the Soviet and Nazi secret police organs, which defined themselves — lest we forget — as enforcement bodies carrying out “counter-terrorism” missions. One measure of what we might call the Cheneyification of public opinion was offered by the GOP-friendly Rasmussen polling firm immediately after the most recent piece of “security theater” — the abortive Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253.
According to Rasmussen’s New Year’s Eve survey, 58% of the public agreed with the proposition that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the “Panty-bomber Patsy,” should be tortured, because … well, because he’s a Muslim accused of terrorism, that’s why, and thus shouldn’t be “given the rights” that would protect American criminal defendants.
Interestingly, an April 2009 poll conducted by the same firm claimed that the public, by exactly the same margin, opposed investigation of Bush-era torture practices. This makes me wonder if the firm is tweaking the results going back to the same demographic well.
Just a few years ago, points out Matthew Yglesias, torture was being justified as an exceptional means used to pry critical intelligence out of recalcitrant master terrorists — an emergency measure that played out against the pressure of a ticking time bomb.
By now, however, torture is firmly institutionalized as a routine interrogation-cum-punishment technique. For the post-Cheney GOP, noted Adam Serwer of The American Prospect, "torture is no longer a ‘necessary evil.’ It is a rally cry, a ‘values’ issue like same-sex marriage or abortion. They don’t "grudgingly" support torture, they applaud it. They celebrate it.”
In fact, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the GOP’s “values” commissariat is willing to countenance all kinds of political and theological transgressions on the part of a candidate as long as he or she firmly supports torture. This is what remains of conservatism today: Fetid nihilism shrouded in high-gloss sanctimony.
The truly nihilistic nature of the torture regime constructed under Bush and Cheney is displayed in the case of Fouad al-Rabiah, an innocent Kuwaiti father of four who was captured, detained, and tortured by the Washington regime for years despite the fact that he was known to be innocent.
In the case of al-Rabiah, notes Andy Worthington, author of "The Guantanamo Files," the Bush-Cheney regime "tortured an innocent man to extract false confessions and then threatened him until he obligingly repeated those lies as though they were the truth."
Al-Rabiah filed a habeas corpus petition in May 2002; his was the oldest habeas petition of those filed on behalf of Gitmo detainees. It was granted by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Kollar-Kotelly on September 17 (Constitution Day, for what that’s worth), who pointed out that the "evidentiary record" against al-Rabiah consisted entirely of statements extracted from him by torture.
Even some of those responsible for interrogating the prisoner recognized that his "confessions" were invalid. Yet the regime still insisted that those torture-extracted statements were sufficient to justify al-Rabiah’s indefinite detention as an "unlawful enemy combatant."
"The Government’s simple explanation for the evidence in this case is that Al Rabiah made confessions the Court should accept as true," noted Judge Kollar-Kotelly. "The simple response is that the Court does not accept confessions that even the Government’s own interrogators do not believe."
The most chilling passages of Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s highly redacted ruling recount the words spoken to him as his torture ordeal began:
“[A] senior [redacted] interrogator came to me and said: ‘There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.” [Emphasis added].
In August 2004, just before a military commission reviewed al-Rabiah’s case, “my interrogators told me the [hearing] was just a show that would allow the United States to ‘save face,’” he recalled in an account that was corroborated to Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s satisfaction. “My interrogators told me no one leaves Guantanamo innocent, and told me I would be sent home to Kuwait if I ‘admitted’ to some of the false things I had said in my interrogations. The interrogators also told me that I would never go home if I denied these things, because the United States government would never admit I had been wrongly held.”
This underscores a critical aspect of the practice of torture: It is a means of validating the assumption that those who wield power on behalf of the State are always right — indeed, that terms such as “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “evil” have no independent meaning beyond that assigned by the State in the interests of those who control it. Torture is a form of punishment, which means that those selected by the State to undergo it are guilty of something — it matters not what it is.
Compounding al-Rabiah’s torment was the prospect of “rendition” to another country in which torture is practiced without stint or pretense by secret police agencies trained by the CIA — and often cross-trained by the KGB. In fact, the CIA has taken over the KGB’s lease on many of the “black sites” in which such atrocities have been committed.
One of the most popular destinations for victims of “extraordinary rendition” is Uzbekistan, a pocket of Stalin-grade Communism in Central Asia ruled by Islam Karimov, a Soviet-trained dictator of the old school.
Former British Ambassador to Tashkent Craig Murray lost his job and has endured severe vituperation at the hands of his government because he objected to Britain’s collaboration in CIA-sponsored torture conducted in Uzbekistan.
“If you are put into prison in Uzbekistan the chances of coming out again alive are less than even,” writes Murray. “And most of the prisons are still the old Soviet gulags in the most literal sense.”
Within a few weeks of being posted to the country, Murray attended a show trial of an elderly man who had been tortured into confessing involvement with al-Qaeda and implicating his nephew as well. This Stalinist spectacle, recalls Ambassador Murray, was “put on partly for the benefit of the American embassy to demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-Uzbek alliance against terrorism.”
Unfortunately for the American commissars and their local clients, the elderly defendant refused to play his scripted role. Gathering strength from somewhere “he said, ‘This is not true. This is not true. They tortured my children in front of me until I signed this. I had never heard of al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden.’”
This elderly Uzbek was taken out and murdered for his defiance, but in telling the truth he reclaimed his humanity. He died as a man, something Cheney and his ilk will never understand. He was but one of thousands who have been tortured during the past decade by Uzbek Chekists, many of them on the specific instructions of Washington. In that case and others, Murray recalls, Uzbeks made use of a torture method specifically endorsed by the execrable John Yoo: Torturing children in order to compel the parents to submit.
Yoo, the impenitent war criminal who wrote many of the key torture memos for the Bush regime, claims that the president has the authority to order the sexual mutilation of a child if he considers such action necessary.
According to Murray, the Uzbek regime apparently got a copy of the relevant memo: “Mutilation of the genitals was common. Suffocation was common, usually by putting a gas mask on people and blocking the air vents until they suffocated. Rape was common, rape with objects, rape with bottles, anal rape, homosexual rape, heterosexual rape, and mutilation of children in front of their parents.”
Ninety percent of all “rendition” flights that visited the former KGB prison in Poland used as a CIA torture facility “went straight on to Tashkent,” Murray observes. “There was an overwhelming body of evidence that … people from all over the world were being taken by the CIA to Uzbekistan specifically in order to be tortured.”
The mortal remains of Muzafar Avazov, who was boiled alive by Communist Uzbek intelligence officers working as subcontractors for Washington.
The CIA’s Uzbek subcontractors occasionally grew tired of commonplace abuse and occasionally boiled a victim alive. Murray recalls the case of Muzafar Avazov, who was submerged in a boiling liquid after his finger nails had been pulled from his hands.
This case was neither unique nor uncommon. Murray had no trouble compiling a large and detailed dossier on the routine, systematic torture being carried out with the blessing of his government and the Washington-based empire that holds its leash.
When Murray expressed his concerns to his superiors, he was chastised for being “over-focused on human rights.” When he dispatched a deputy to confront the CIA’s station chief with his concerns, Murray’s associate was told that the “intelligence” being gathered by the Agency was indeed produced through torture, “but we don’t see that as a problem in the context of the war on terror.”
Give Karimov and his junta credit for being bold and candid in embracing this evil. The American torture state operates on exactly the same totalitarian premises, but tries to disguise this reality beneath a thick lacquer of supposed righteousness.
A certain part of the public (one heavily seasoned by people professing to worship as God the Lonely Nazarene who was gratuitously scourged and beaten by valiant troops who served a previous empire) simply expects that anyone accused of terrorism, not just those caught in the act, will be treated as if his guilt is an established fact and tortured as a matter of course.
It is strikingly perverse that contemporary Christians — people who claim to follow the same faith as the early believers, many of whom were well-acquainted with the dim solitude the dungeon and the sting of the torturer’s whip — embrace this profane cult.
The early Christians were willing to face death by torture rather than offer a pinch of incense on the altar of a ruler who supposedly embodied the State’s divinity.
Too many Americans who profess to be believers are more akin to the dissolute Romans who occupied the best seats in the Coliseum while Christians and other enemies of the State were dismembered for their political heresies — or the Uzbek officials who fill prisons with Christians and other innocents, and occasionally boil people alive.
Setting aside Freud’s analysis of the inner life, we should recall that we’re informed, on the best Authority, that “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45) What, then, can we infer from the willingness of conservative American Christians to countenance, and even applaud, torture?