When Did the Morality of Torture Become Debatable?

The suddenly interesting again Washington Post tells us a little more about how the U.S. torture policies operate:

The airplane is a Gulfstream Ⅴ turbojet, the sort favored by CEOs and celebrities. But it has been seen at military airports from Pakistan to Indonesia to Jordan, sometimes being boarded by hooded and handcuffed passengers.

The plane’s owner of record, Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., lists directors and officers who appear to exist only on paper. And each one of those directors and officers has a recently issued Social Security number and an address consisting only of a post office box, according to an extensive search of state, federal and commercial records.

Bryan P. Dyess, Steven E. Kent, Timothy R. Sperling and Audrey M. Tailor are names without residential, work, telephone or corporate histories — just the kind of “sterile identities,” said current and former intelligence officials, that the CIA uses to conceal involvement in clandestine operations. In this case, the agency is flying captured terrorist suspects from one country to another for detention and interrogation.

The CIA calls this activity “rendition.” Premier Executive’s Gulfstream helps make it possible. According to civilian aircraft landing permits, the jet has permission to use U.S. military airfields worldwide.

, secret renditions have become a principal weapon in the CIA’s arsenal against suspected al Qaeda terrorists, according to congressional testimony by CIA officials. But as the practice has grown, the agency has had significantly more difficulty keeping it secret. According to airport officials, public documents and hobbyist plane spotters, the Gulfstream Ⅴ, with tail number N379P, has been used to whisk detainees into or out of Jakarta, Indonesia; Pakistan; Egypt; and Sweden, usually at night, and has landed at well-known U.S. government refueling stops.

As the outlines of the rendition system have been revealed, criticism of the practice has grown. Human rights groups are working on legal challenges to renditions, said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, because one of their purposes is to transfer captives to countries that use harsh interrogation methods outlawed in the United States. That, he said, is prohibited by the U.N. Convention on Torture.

The CIA has the authority to carry out renditions under a presidential directive dating to the Clinton administration, which the Bush administration has reviewed and renewed.

I’m disappointed in my neighbors for not having dusted off the pitchforks and stormed the castle once we learned about these atrocities that shame us before the world. And I’m disappointed in myself for being naïve and for letting my guard down.

I really thought that torture, like slavery, was something that the civilized world had made indefensible by consensus long ago. I am surprised at how brazenly torture has been adopted as policy in the U.S., at how little heat this has generated (that it never became a campaign issue, for instance), and at how little reluctance Americans have to take public pro-torture positions.

For a long time I thought that the reason torture and abuse by Americans at home and abroad is tolerated was that people are averting their eyes and playing some reprehensible but very ordinary ethical evasions by means of willful ignorance. The more I read of the explicit White House memos, of the sheer number of U.S. personnel involved in the torture and abuse, and of the common and unashamed apologetics for torture here-and-there in blogland and elsewhere the more I think that active sadism is a better explanation than passive justification.

Of course exposing the torture policy and undermining its plausible deniability will do nothing to win sadists over. It would be like pointing out the deaths of innocent civilians to terrorists who bomb city busses and expecting this to shock them into repentance. So what then is the point of my ever-growing catalog of torture and abuse? It is meant more for what I’m starting to understand is a very small minority of Americans who are in fact disgusted by torture and who if they allowed themselves to acknowledge the overt and covert brutality being done with their passive approval would be ashamed and horrified and would end their passivity. If you happen to know anyone like this, please send them this way.