February 3, 2009

THE VOTERS CERTAINLY WON'T INTERFERE:

Catastrophic Exceptions: review of Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali (Gary J. Bass, Dissent)

Democratic torture, on Rejali’s account, goes on in a much different political arena. The torturers have to be worried about the interference of judges, lawyers, reporters, activists, and voters. To evade them, the democratic torturer has to turn to “electric prods and electroshockers, tortures by water and ice, drugs of sinister variety, sonic devices—and also by methods that are less technical, but no less sophisticated or painful; the modern democratic torturer knows how to beat a suspect senseless without leaving a mark.” Democratic publics, according to Rejali, also might be more willing to overlook torture when they think it is necessary for national security, or if it is done to different kinds of people, or in wars or colonialism. As an example of almost all of those dynamics, in 1902, during the war in the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt coolly noted, “The enlisted men began to use the old Filipino method of mild torture, the water cure. Nobody was seriously damaged.” Democracies torture; they just do it evasively.

Except that "coolly noted" directly undercuts the central thesis of evasiveness. Rather, democracies have sought to find the most humane ways to torture those who need it, in keeping with our concern for human rights--even those of evil-doers--and decency.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 3, 2009 8:11 AM
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