Everyday Torture

From John Buell:

In Portland Phoenix articles, Lance Tapley points out that about 35,000 U.S. citizens are held in solitary confinement at “Supermaxes” (including Maine’s). Many are subjected to torture in the form of beating, sleep deprivation and mental abuse that rival practices at Guantanamo, according to Tapley.

Torture’s political invisibility is remarkable given its counterproductive consequences. Tapley points out that the torture of Supermax prisoners, most of whom are mentally ill, leads to high rates of recidivism and poses great public risk.

Frank Rich, commenting on [Jane] Mayer, suggests: “torture may well be enabling future attacks… false confessions and [an] avalanche of misinformation since 9-11… compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases.”

Some Americans do oppose torture, but even many who are opposed won’t acknowledge that “we” torture individuals not privy to secret bomb information. For example, prison authorities, major media and political leaders have not challenged Tapley’s specific factual assertions. Nonetheless, none have acted on his findings. Many national leaders even engage in tortuous redefinitions of torture.

These responses may have deep origins. Our world now presents shrinking employment options, rapid changes in neighborhoods and complex interdependence. Social turmoil leads many Americans, steeped in traditional notions of the U.S. as “a city upon a hill” in possession of unique truth, to embrace a problematic conviction: individuals whose differences in religion, lifestyle or ethnicity pose no direct threat really are dangerous.

The world is seen as irrevocably divided between a virtuous “us” and a dangerous “them.” We would never torture or would do so only for overwhelming reasons. When victims of our torture attack or murder us, their actions merely confirm our conviction that they are “basically evil.”

Greater equality and adequate security might blunt xenophobic responses to economic crisis. Nonetheless, especially in a world becoming ever more multicultural, achieving progressive reforms is unlikely without also challenging some prevalent forms of fundamentalism. These dogmatic and exclusionary creeds blind us to the limits of our own intelligence, deny opportunities for full self-development, and preclude social justice movements across racial and religious lines.

Read the whole thing here

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