The Torturers

Are we now torturing children?

A chill went down my spine as I read an account of a recent talk given by Seymour Hersh at the University of Chicago (via blogger Brad Delong):

“He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, ‘You haven’t begun to see evil…‘ then trailed off. He said, ‘horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.’ He looked frightened….”

After the initial wave of Abu Ghraib photos came out, I thought I was beyond shock, but this new revelation goes well beyond anything imagined in my worst nightmares. If we are now measuring degrees of evil, then this is the absolute variety.

The fallback position of the administration and its media amen corner has so far been that the Abu Ghraib atrocities were the exception, the work of a few isolated individuals, and in no way representative of American policy regarding the treatment of prisoners in Iraq. But this is becoming untenable in the face of new revelations, including the news that the White House requested specific intelligence from Abu Ghraib. Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, one of four individuals held chiefly responsible for the Abu Ghraib prison-house of horrors, told Army investigators that the White House had requested information related to “very sensitive issues.” The White House spin machine argues that Jordan’s testimony is so “broadly stated” as to be practically meaningless. Good try, but this defense is already unraveling due to the retrieval of Abu Ghraib torturer Joe Ryan’s online diary, which reveals that, whatever the specific information was, it certainly pleased the White House:

“The other big news at work was a message sent to us from Ms. Rice, the National Security Advisor, thanking us for the intelligence that has come out of our shop and noting that our work is being briefed to President Bush on a regular basis. Now if we could declassify some of it in order to shut up these people who say we have no business over here, that would be the best day!”

I agree with Joe: let’s declassify Condi’s commendation to the sadists of Abu Ghraib, so it can be entered as evidence in her upcoming war crimes trial. Put her in the dock with Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, and the rest of the neocon gang, and broadcast the trial worldwide. That’s the only way we’re ever going to regain even a modicum of credibility, and not only in the Arab world.

I never thought I would say this, being a dyed-in-the-wool America Firster, but Abu Ghraib calls for an international tribunal, perhaps one organized by humanitarian and human rights organizations, including not only Iraqis but also the International Red Cross – which has apparently already carried out an extensive investigation. The London Telegraph reports:

“New evidence that the physical abuse of detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay was authorized at the top of the Bush administration will emerge in Washington this week, adding further to pressure on the White House. The Telegraph understands that four confidential Red Cross documents implicating senior Pentagon civilians in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been passed to an American television network, which is preparing to make them public shortly.”

General Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, isn’t going to take the rap by himself. Despite evidence that he gave orders to ramp up the torture tactics and “disappear” certain detainees, responsibility for the sadist’s saturnalia at Abu Ghraib is rapidly rocketing to the top. A June 10 New York Times story about the sudden revamping of the Abu Ghraib investigation, which is now to be headed by nothing less than a four-star general, contained this startling news:

“Within the last several days, an important figure in the inquiry who had previously refused to cooperate with Army investigators suddenly reversed his position and agreed to work much more closely with investigators, a senior Senate aide and a senior Pentagon official said.

“That important development prompted General Fay to send some of his 29-person team back into the field to conduct more interviews, the officials said. ‘A key witness, a key person who’d pled the military equivalent of the Fifth has changed his attitude, and Fay is reopening the investigation,’ the Senate official said.”

The gun that’s giving off the most smoke so far, however, is the Orwellian policy memo prepared by Pentagon lawyers to justify torture – and provide legal arguments for administration officials accused of war crimes. Now there‘s a documented case of prescience for you, but you don’t have to be a believer in the paranormal to realize that this document, leaked to the Wall Street Journal and since released in a redacted [pdf] version, comes from the Dark Side of the American psyche:

“‘In order to respect the president’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign … (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority,’ the report asserted. (The parenthetical comment is in the original document.) The Justice Department ‘concluded that it could not bring a criminal prosecution against a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the president’s constitutional power,’ the report said. Citing confidential Justice Department opinions drafted after Sept. 11, 2001, the report advised that the executive branch of the government had ‘sweeping’ powers to act as it sees fit because ‘national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action that characterize the presidency rather than Congress.'”

Unity in purpose, energy in action” – it might almost be the slogan of a neo-fascist movement, one that recalls the prophetic words of John T. Flynn, Old Right author and activist, whose 1944 prediction stands up pretty well today:

“Fascism will come at the hands of perfectly authentic Americans who have been working to commit this country to the rule of the bureaucratic state; interfering in the affairs of the states and cities; taking part in the management of industry and finance and agriculture; assuming the role of great national banker and investor, borrowing billions every year and spending them on all sorts of projects through which such a government can paralyze opposition and command public support; marshalling great armies and navies at crushing costs to support the industry of war and preparation for war which will become our nation’s greatest industry; and adding to all this the most romantic adventures in global planning, regeneration, and domination, all to be done under the authority of a powerfully centralized government in which the executive will hold in effect all the powers, with Congress reduced to the role of a debating society.”

Sixty years later, the cult of the omnipotent state has culminated in an effort by government lawyers to prove that the commander-in-chief is also the torturer-in-chief. Seldom have critics of the “imperial Presidency” had their wildest fears so vividly conjured. The idea that the President’s role as a military leader trumps all constraints is the first principle of a distinctively American militarism. It is the fascist/national socialist leader principle planted in American soil, and only this crew in Washington would have the temerity to claim such a moral and legal monstrosity is sanctioned by the Constitution.

As libertarians have consistently argued since Flynn’s time, the centralization of power in the person of the President, who is thought to somehow embody the Nation, is an inevitable outcome of an interventionist foreign policy. A Republic, Not an Empire! – It’s the slogan of a burgeoning movement among conservatives, a sentiment shared by many old-fashioned liberals and lefties, as well as the title of an excellent book by Pat Buchanan. The phrase encapsulates a common insight into the domestic consequences of an imperialist foreign policy: we can’t retain our republican form of a strictly limited government, theoretically answerable to the people, and still embark on the road to Empire.

Garet Garrett, another libertarian critic of empire, pointed out that, as long our rulers were bound by the chains of the Constitution – their power pretty evenly divided among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government – the imperialist impulse was stayed. In his 1955 philippic Rise of Empire, Garrett wrote:

“So it worked, and worked extremely well, for the Republic. It would not work for Empire, because what Empire needs above all in government is an executive power that can make immediate decisions, such as a decision in the middle of the night by the President to declare war on the aggressor in Korea.”

As Defense Department lawyers aver that the President’s role as commander-in-chief trumps the rule of law, both man-made and natural, Garrett’s axiom is worth remembering:

“The first requisite of Empire is:

The executive power of government shall be dominant.”

And so it is. The mechanism of Empire is in place. Its engines await the throwing of a switch. What will fuel the machinery of imperialism is the fermented detritus of our own decadence, the immorality of a nation that will countenance the torturing of children without overthrowing the regime that sanctioned it. Whether or not this effusion of corruption exists in sufficient quality to keep the war machine barreling full steam ahead – the answer will test the moral character of the American people, and their representatives. Let us hope and pray they pass it, that the motor of Empire runs out of gas, and our descent into the moral abyss of imperial decadence is avoided, at least for the moment.


Check out my radio interview on Michael Corbin’s “A Closer Look.”

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].