The Tortured Rhetoric of the Reactionary Left

The reactionary left has descended upon waterboarding as its new case study in why conservatives are diabolical and without conscience.  The sad reality is that conservatives are reacting in the rather conventional manner of going on the defensive.  Conservatives need to fight back more vigorously against this community now willing to name even Harry Truman as a war criminal alongside President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Vice President Cheney, and so many more good citizens.

The reactionaries of the Left are celebrating their own unique sense of jingoism that has come to dominate their political community since Vietnam.  In this distinct and pathological view of the world, there is only one reality -- America's imperialism.  The global human community has ceased to exist for this reactionary community.  'America does not f***ing torture,' in the over heated words of Shepard Smith. 

For the torture reactionaries, the question can only be if America tortures.  The global concept of torture has completely been subordinated to a view that no one tortures in the world except as a genuine and comprehensible response to American imperialism.  It is an America in need of God's damning to paraphrase one of its unrepentant spiritual leaders. 

A more productive and comprehensive study of the question of torture would include:  Is it torture to slowly behead someone with a knife as Musab Al Zarqawi did with American ANSWER leader's son Nicholas Berg?  Berg's father Michael robotically answered this question by telling the world that George W. Bush killed his son-- completely consistent with ANSWER's reactionary brainwashing.   Is it torture for Saddam Hussein and his sons to watch victims in Iraqi prisons witness the raping of spouses or have an electric drill run into someone's ankle bone?  Is it torture to discharge an AK-47 into a woman's skull in front of crowds at a Kabul soccer stadium? 

The prolonged silence and ambivalence of the reactionary left toward such atrocities has created a rhetorical vacuum.  The reason the term "neo-conservative" was invented by the reactionary left was to close the door on an ugly divorce within their community between human rights and global politics.  The Left largely no longer believes in individual human rights for people outside the United States -- with the possible exception of individuals inside the Gaza strip.  The reason Pat Buchannan can sit alongside Keith Olberman on an MSNBC television set is that the paleo-con and the reactionary leftist share an ambivalence for the rights of individuals oppressed by non-American and non-Israeli points of power.  For both political stances, the retraction of American power will lead to a world of useful silence wherein we will simply not know or concern ourselves with inhumanity as it may be practiced in the world.  It is after all 'their culture.'  The mind numbing multiculturalism is the intellectual sedative that has put the struggle for individual human rights to slumber on the Left. 

Noticeably missing from the discussion of whether water boarding crosses the line from interrogation to torture is analysis of how the decision was made.  The Bush administration conducted a legal debate within their ranks and the broader public sphere.  That is the most important principal revealed by the CIA memos and the most important contrast principal of Obama's politics in choosing to release only one side of that debate. 

The reactionary community that fuels the Obama administration does not believe in free and fair debate.  They believe that strategic exclusions of information constitute appropriate means for building political power.  On the other hand, within the Bush administration, the CIA, the American media, and the public, there was a constant debate about whether water boarding was appropriate. 

There were no debates in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or dozens of other countries where torture actually does take place.  In sharp contrast, the torture enjoyed by families such as the Hussein family of Iraq, was a matter of pure impulsive indulgence and spectacle.  There was little or no notion of protecting a public sphere in Iraq.  The heads of Iraqi victims were regularly posted outside the homes of victim's families after these spectacles were complete.  The adamant refusal of the Olbermans, Stewarts, Riches and other reactionaries to entertain a serious conversation on global torture is one which is veiled in their jingoistic display of the flag.  This is America!  We don't torture!

The sad state of affairs was amplified in the recent 100 day press conference.  At this event, President Obama appealed to the idea that the British refused to torture during World War II.  The appeal to a foreign government as more moral than America fits easily within Obama's worldview.  Obama and his team must have missed this gem from the British press published in 2006 by the Guardian:

"Sherman Carroll, of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said British authorities should also apologise and pay compensation to survivors. "The suggestion that Britain did not use torture during world war two and in the immediate aftermath, because it was regarded as 'ineffective', is a mythology that has been successfully propagated for decades," he said. "The fact that it took place should be acknowledged.

. . . Others interrogated at the same prison, at Bad Nenndorf, near Hanover, included Nazis, prominent German industrialists of the Hitler era, and former members of the SS.  At least two men suspected of being communists were starved to death, at least one was beaten to death, others suffered serious illness or injuries, and many lost toes to frostbite.

The appalling treatment of the 372 men and 44 women who were interrogated at Bad Nenndorf between 1945 and 1947 are detailed in a report by a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Tom Hayward."

Obama's misstatement is symptomatic of the community from which he draws his arguments -- reactionary and shallow.  The British actually used brutal tactics against Nazis and other rivals in World War II -- including thumbscrews and shinscrews -- and continue to use techniques that most US officials would blanche at in fighting terrorists such as the IRA during the 1980s.  Obama's slick answer is typical wishful thinking from the reactionary left which only allows itself to consider American and Israeli roles in torturing the innocent.  It is intrinsic to the close mindedness that has descended on the Left regarding human rights as a global struggle.

The circularity of the reactionary Left's worldview is one that not only condones torture but encourages it.   It is a circularity that helped America look away from the torture of the Khmer Rouge after Vietnam.  It helped Clinton look away from Africa after Mogadishu when Hutus took up machetes against their brothers and sisters in Rwanda.  It is a view that helps genocide expert and Obama administration aide, Samantha Power see a "monster" in Hillary Clinton when she threatened Obama's path to power, but now she sees an acceptable sovereign seated in Khartoum.  The Obama administration would do well to look at the recent example of Democratic congressional members arrested at the Sudanese embassy and less to the shrill jingoism of Code Pink, ANSWER, and Michael Moore.  The insular jingoistic view of torture held by the reactionary left is killing us all.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication at Southern Methodist University and Director of Debate.