It’s not just that it’s morally repugnant; torture makes no sense. Judged strictly by its results, it’s a waste of time and money.
Yet, it remains so appealing because nothing is more bracing than burying a person’s humanity beneath a label and having at them, whether it’s torture, area bombing, drone attacks, or gas chambers.
Life is so much easier once you have a workable label in place. You can stop thinking and enjoy the vicarious thrill while other’s do the dirty work. And for those pouring the water or dropping the bombs or guiding the drones or dropping the gas pellets there’s the adrenalin high of engaging is state-sanctioned mayhem.
Torture has been cleverly marketed to the public. It’s a real gas watching Jack Bauer torture a suspect on 24. I mean, hell, if it’s on prime time it must be okay.
There is something in our national psyche that thrills to the efficiency with which violence yields results. Maybe we watched too many westerns as kids and cheered when the mild mannered hero finally exploded and beat the crap out of the villain.
The problem is that the only “result” violence yields is a pissed-off adversary.
It is interesting to compare 9/11 with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The only difference between the two is that 9/11 succeeded where the 1993 blast failed. The perpetrators of the 1993 plot placed their van in such a manner that they thought the blast would cause the south tower to collapse and take down the north tower as it fell. They simply didn’t pack enough explosives in the van.
What is instructive about 1993 is that without torture or a Patriot Act of a Military Commissions Act or rendition or black holes, and in an open criminal trial in which all of the rules of evidence and procedure were observed, the perpetrators were tried, convicted and sentenced.
Yet with all the above enacted after 9/11, we haven’t convicted anyone.
So, there must be a reason for torture’s appeal.
The last forty years have not been kind to the Euromerican male, especially those who have entered middle age. Following World War II, they ruled the roost, the world was their oyster and they were loved and admired. Then the rug was pulled out from under them. Their quiet suburban life was shattered by the fires of black anger and the rebellious love-ins of their children. Vietnam took the air out of their hubris, and into the vacuum created by its absence flowed bitterness and anger. Everything pissed them off, be it paying taxes to feed the poor or women burning their bras or their sons burning their draft cards.
Then came Ronnie, riding into the Beltway on his white horse, and all was well again. The white guys were back on top as we regained our national pride with the invasion of Granada. Next, Clinton reformed the welfare system so the poor could once again be the poor.
Then came 9/11 and it was morning in America all over as we became the wronged heroes in the B western that is our nation’s history. Violence regained its respectability.
For the male Euromerican marginalized for so long, torture and violence are soothing palliatives. It’s a feel-good experience to know that some poor native is being made to suffer to we can maintain our hegemonic greatness. And this feel-goodness is egged on by right-wing shock jocks that spew their white rage over the airways, feeding the cathartic anger of their listeners.
It’s no wonder Obama is waffling on torture and rendition. He doesn’t want to roil a bunch of pissed-off white males. They can make for a nasty mob.