Monday, May 08, 2006

"Crimes Against Humanity" in New Jersey.

George J. Annas, "Unspeakably Cruel -- Torture, Medical Ethics, and Law," The New England Journal of Medicine May 19, 2005, 352; 20.
Karen J. Greenberg, The Torture Debate in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold war to the War on Terror (New York: Henry Holt, 2006).
Harold Pinter, "Art, Truth and Politics," in Not One More Death (London: Verso, 2006), p. 14.

Before reading this essay, please see "Psychological Torture in the American Legal System," January 15, 2006,

Revelations that American soldiers, allegedly under specific orders from their immediate supervisors and possibly with the consent of the highest officials in the land, tortured Iraqui detainees have raised serious doubts about the values of the United States of America. I continue to hope, perhaps irrationally, that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld did not order these acts of barbarity. Both men have condemned these crimes and deny having ordered them. I refuse to believe anything different in the absence of compelling proof against them, which I have yet to see in the news reports and books that I have read. I say this despite increasing doubts expressed by critics concerning the plausibility of the Bush Administration's denials. Sadly, it is becoming abundantly clear that these denials are doubtful at best.

The reason to forbid torture is not simply its ineffectiveness as an information-gathering technique, but that it is evil. The United States of America should not be associated with such tactics. The obviousness of this observation does not diminish the need to say it. The world needs to hear this from the United States and from individual Americans.

For much of the world it is now an open question whether the U.S. commitment to human rights, both internationally and within the nation's borders, is real or only a matter of hypocrisy and lip service. The apparent indifference to torture has not helped with America's image abroad nor with its credibility on human rights issues. Prosecutions are underway and "the investigation is on-going," as they say, so that we may continue to hope that this shameful episode in the nation's history is only an aberration.

Much seems to depend on whether the victims of torture are "ordinary Americans" (which is a code term for "middle class whites" as opposed to "others"). I am suggesting that torture must be abolished regardless of the race or ethinicity of the victims.

This now seems unlikely since new revelations have appeared suggesting that torture is a routine aspect of life in New Jersey, for example, and probably in other places. There are reasons to believe that torture is a secret component of the legal system of that unfortunate state, where such horrors are only one part of the "underground" reality of the "unofficial" court-political/power system.

The New Jersey state slogan ("New Jersey -- Come see for yourself!"), which cost taxpayers $250,000.00, has now been quietly abandoned after six months' use. Would it not be better for New Jersey to admit past errors, refuse to employ secret torture sessions in future interrogations, while adopting a slogan that says: "We no longer torture people?" Many people think so.

When I think of New Jersey's legal system, I am reminded of film director Carlo Ponti's response when he was told that one of his writers in an American film was considered a Communist by Senator McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee. Signor Ponti said ... "So what? Who do we fix and how much?" No doubt Carlo Ponti had spent some time in the Garden State. (See "New Jersey's Feces-Covered Supreme Court.")

Torture is a "crime against humanity," defined as such since the Nuremberg Trials. Obeying orders is no defense to such crimes. In the words of General Telford Taylor in 1946, Nazi physicians "... are responsible for wholesale murder and unspeakably cruel tortures." Health care workers, especially physicians and nurses, using their training to obtain information by means of the infliction of mental suffering on victims are guilty of "unspeakably cruel and heinous" crimes. This is true wherever and whenever such things occur. (See "Is New Jersey Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz unethical or only incompetent?")

Let us ask Chief Justice Poritz: Given your knowledge of the tortures taking place in New Jersey -- on your watch, in a legal system over which you presided -- how do you live with yourself now? How do you feel when you judge the ethics of others? Like a fraud? Does the ethnicity or race of victims, provided that it is different from your own, make it O.K.? What have you become? How does a Jew become Mengele?

Torture is prohibited under Amendment VIII, of the U.S. Constitution as "cruel and unusual punishment" and is also barred under the "due process" clause of the XIVth Amendment. Yet it is, allegedly, a daily reality in American prisons and interrogation chambers, maybe in U.S. society generally. See Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories, 2003), pp. 60-83. Women are sexualized and tortured, raped or otherwise violated, routinely in American jails and prisons. New jersey may be the worst offender in this regard. This is intolerable. Under the U.N. Convention and Human Rights Law signed by the U.S.:

"Torture is any act against an individual in the offender's custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering ... whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes as obtaining from that individual or a third person information or a confession, punishing that individual for an act that individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing that individual or a third person or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind." (emphasis added)

A person cannot consent to torture; torture is never for the victim's own good; secrecy does not render torture permissible; complicity by state institutions or anonymous slanders of the victim(s) in the media only makes the offense worse; while participation by lawyers, physicians or therapists in such acts makes these offenses especially loathsome and despicable, even if they torture to get information they consider "useful." Torture is a betrayal of a physician's oath and a befouling of the therapeutic encounter. (Terry and Diana) It is "unethical," in the full meaning of the word, for any attorney to be aware of or to participate in any torture of persons. (That's you, John, and "others.")

Yet torture happens all-too often, usually with a wink from public officials, who sometimes join the "fun." (If this image is blocked, then do a search on Google under "Justice Virginia Long" of the New Jersey Supreme Court.) In Hudson County the torture got a little out of hand recently and may have resulted in the killing of at least one inmate; while in Passaic County, the use of dogs as part of torture has led to a class action suit.

This fondness for torture on the part of some U.S. officials is true not only in Iraq, but also in some of the worst jurisdictions in the U.S., as I say, where corruption has become the norm. Many people, especially minority group members, have experienced brutality at the hands of the authorities. Many have also been subjected to some form of torture, usually in such a way that the victim cannot prove what happened, so that he or she is forced to live with the indignity of knowing that the torturers continue to live freely in society. A question for my torturers is whether their families in Ridgewood and Clifton know what they do and that they lie about their crimes, concealing the truth from their victims -- victims who will not go away or relent in the struggle to face torturers and rapists.

"Therapists" lend themselves to questioning people in violative ways that, nonetheless, allow the authorities to deny that such things occur in the land of the free and the home of the brave. These infuriating hypocrisies and contradictions in a young Latino's or African-American's (or anyone's) life, for instance, help to explain the seething anger that one must live with, every day, even if one continues to believe in the promise or hope that is America.

I understand that people who have not experienced such things will find it difficult to believe that American institutions can be so corrupt or that the nice folks living next door, who may work for the "government," know or participate in the violation of human rights. Victims of abuse find it equally difficult to believe that anyone can take seriously denials of responsibility for torture by public officials in places like New Jersey. And yet, as civil libertarians, we must afford everyone -- including Garden State politicians and judges -- a presumption of innocence.

Where are they on this issue? Hiding? Is their response only that they are "against smoking in public places"? There is a mysterious contemporary silence concerning torture on the part of the highest courts in various states riddled with corruption. I wonder why?

Let us hope that public figures will do the right thing. It would certainly be a welcome surprise to find politicians -- even judges -- standing firm against torture. Too many state Supreme Court justices only take time from posing for their portraits to negelect their duties to a citizenry increasingly fed up with, for example, New Jersey's routine political corruption and illegality in high places.

Torture is morally evil. Not even defenders of torture in the human "ticking bomb" situation condone or approve of torture (not publicly, anyway), including psychological torture, as a method of obtaining information in ordinary legal proceedings. And secrecy is always offensive to legality. But torture is also addictive for torturers, who come to delight in wielding power over others, so that the infliction of pain on others becomes its own reward. Terry, does this ring a bell? How about Diana?

The most popular forms of torture in America are so-called "hands off" torture techniques developed by American intelligence agencies. These methods involve, primarily, use of drugging, hypnosis, stress/anxiety inducement, frustration and other methods for creating depression and collapse. Guilt is very effective in this regard. Long term effects of such artificially created psychological trauma are devastating. These methods are barbaric and cruel, leaving victims with life-long psychological injuries, difficulties with affect and social functioning, while causing personality distortions in torturers too. Yet torture may well have become a not-so-secret method of social control in the United States.

We must eradicate torture in all of its forms, including psychological torture. Any physician or lawyer engaging in, or aware of, acts of torture intended to provide information that is to be used against victims in court proceedings, is guilty of crimes against humanity and depravity. I wish any physicians or attorneys engaging in such activities to know that no amount of sophistry absolves them of moral responsibility -- and legal liability too, if they get caught, and I hope that they will be -- for such loathsome actions.

Any tribunal or adjudicative body knowingly basing its decisions or findings of fact on information procured by such illicit means lacks legitimacy, so that its decisions are rendered invalid and unworthy of respect. Any continuing cover up of the use of torture in legal proceedings, which is also a daily occurrence in the most corrupt jurisdictions, makes the offense more heinous and must stop immediately, with full disclosure of all facts to victims of such tortures.

For each day that torture continues to be covered-up, it is repeated upon the bodies and minds of victims. We must finally take the great civilizing step of ending torture everywhere today, now.

Please communicate your horror at such practices to your elected officials, state tribunals and to professional bodies, throughout the United States and globally. If you have engaged in the torture of others, as a therapist or security official, then have the decency to admit your actions and make some effort to atone for them. Tell judges and politicians in your state what you think of such crimes.

Consider the portrait accompanying this essay, and let us ask such persons today to reflect on what they have become. We can always hope that there is some remnant of decency and morality left in such people. After all, they must have been children once.

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