Lecture Highlights Cruelty of U.S. Terror Policy
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
With the Wikileaks controversy exploding onto the U.S. politics and media in recent days, Mark Danner could not have picked a better time to come to campus. On Tuesday, Nov. 30, the journalist, writer and Bard College professor presented “Terror, Torture, Obama and Us: Trapped in a Forever War?” at 7:30 p.m. in Pruyne Lecture Hall.

According to President Anthony Marx’s introduction, Danner “helps us confront issues we don’t want to confront… We wish we had more [like him] in society.”

Danner began his lecture by defining the War on Terror as a “forever war,” essentially a conflict without any foreseeable conclusion and is, as he put it, “unbounded in a metaphysical way.” He then reached back into American history to Watergate, the incident that first taught him these political lessons, and a scandal whose ramifications have since been lost in American politics. During Watergate, there was a three-stage process: revelation, investigation and expiation, a procedure that allowed society to cleanse itself. Nowadays, said Danner, this process has broken down. The U.S. government employs torture techniques around the globe, and while a revelation occurred, there was no subsequent investigation or expiation.

At this point in American foreign policy, torture has ceased to be an atrocious act condemned internationally and considered antithetical to American democratic values, but rather a policy choice, a weapon in the president’s arsenal. “After eight years of this, has anyone been held accountable?” Danner asked before answering, “Yes. Six low-ranking soldiers.” Instead of pursuing these crimes, the government obscured them from media attention by blocking them from American courts.

Danner then discussed memo leaks from the Department of the Justice and highlighted the honest and transparent peek into governmental affairs they provide the general public. Only through these leaked memos can the people see the reality of the government and read firsthand accounts and testimonies of torture. In a nation that holds itself as a beacon of democracy, equality and human rights, the torture techniques that America employs have been used by the worst of dictatorships; the Soviets regularly made prisoners stand for hours and hours at a time, with vital signs monitored by doctors, while waterboarding, which Danner called “interrupted drowning,” was used as far as back as the Inquisition and in many brutal colonialist regimes, such as the French in the Algerian War of Independence.

When Barack Obama came to power, he vowed to put a stop to these inhumane practices, and while he did, he did not reject them universally, but slyly maintained the right to possibly implement them again in a time of need. While the Obama administration insisted that the nation must look forward rather than backwards in this age of terrorism, Danner pointed out that America is at such a lamentable point that the “only avenue of investigation… as a legal matter… would be prosecuting the amount of water in waterboarding, not waterboarding itself.” Only 20 to 25 percent of Americans are against torture, much lower than Europe as a whole, due to a belief in their necessity for homeland security, a fact that Danner described as “the tragic point we have reached in this forever war… that a large number of Americans, possibly the majority, believe that the laws don’t keep them safe.”

Despite Obama’s vows to rectify Bush administration policy, he has still maintained some of the Bush era practices of keeping prisoners of war without due process of law. The administration has identified nearly 50 detainees it believes it can neither release nor retry, a fact commonly overlooked that goes against fundamental tenets of the American Bill of Rights.

“If we deprive ourselves of the sacred right to justice,” Danner asked, “Was the intelligence information we received worth it?”

Issue 10, Submitted 2010-12-01 04:05:47