it is with a heavy heart that i undertake to comment on the release of the congressional report on official united states torture of those captured in the course of the second iraq war. the report and subsequent commentary make clear that this was explicit state policy, initiated by the president and vice-president and carried out, apparently without significant objection, by members of the government and private contractors, including professional psychologists. the report indicates that the torture resulted in no useful information. What is perhaps noteworthy or unusual about this state-authorized torture is that it was carried out on u.s. soil by americans, rather than by foreign governments to whom prisoners had been sent to be tortured under 'rendition' arrangements. senior members of congress were informed of the torture as it happened, and defended it, kept it secret, and protected those who carried it out.
there are important lessons to be learned from this episode, none of which, i think, will result in any substantive change in american torture practices.
1. contrary to oft-repeated statements by public commentators who claim to be shocked and appalled by the revelations, this is in fact who we are as a nation. it is who we have been since the nation was founded on the labor of enslaved africans. vastly larger numbers of americans than non-americans have been tortured in the past four hundred years by and with the complete legal approval first of the separate colonies and then of the states and the federal government.
2. the actions of the united states government were in violation of u.s. law and treaties signed by the united states government. everyone involved is patently guilty of major crimes.
3. no one will be indicted, tried, convicted, or punished for those crimes.
4. by its refusal to hold anyone legally accountable for the torture, or even to fire people still in government employ who were involved in the torture, president obama and the obama administration make themselves complicit in the actions of their predecessors.
5. no one will pay any political price for having participated in the torture, or for having failed to prosecute those who did.