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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

U.S. Character in east-west Asia — unmasking dark side

 “U.S. Foreign Policy, Deniability, and the Political ‘Utility’ of State Terror” by Terry Lynn Karl in Marjorie Cohn’s United States and Torture
Excerpt, minor edit, italics by Carolyn Bennett

Torture breeds terrorism http://torturebreedsterrorism.wordpress.com/
“State terror, including torture, is widely used for both interrogation and social control. Its purpose is to destroy the voice, the self, the reality, and the existence of its victims, their families, friends, and supporters and to instill fear in opposition movements.

“Citizens of democracies tend to rest comfortably in the belief that liberal democratic states use repression and torture against their own citizens much less often than other states. But democracies have not only tortured, as the Bush administration’s orders and practices in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo so vividly demonstrate, but those with colonial histories or expansive ambitions have set the international standard in the development of the doctrines and techniques of repression.

“In fact, some democracies have taken the lead in pioneering and exporting methods of torture that ‘leave no marks’ as well as theories of ‘limited war’ that can sweep away civilian protections. Not only have they trained other military and state authorities in the science of coercive interrogation, but they and their allies have also used methods of torture and repression extensively in foreign wars … the French in Algeria, the British in Northern Ireland, and the Americans in Vietnam.

“These practices pose an enormous dilemma for the conduct of foreign policy in democracies that extend themselves abroad, especially the United States.

On the one hand, U.S. foreign policy embeds itself in notions of American exceptionalism with the concomitant belief that actions abroad should reflect the self-image of a people who stand for freedom everywhere. Although most governments (even dictatorships) attribute some sort of virtue to their actions abroad, the United States sees itself as blessed by a unique goodness. This strong moral streak in political culture, perhaps best captured by the oft-cited vision of a ‘city on a hill,’ as well as the desire to serve as a model to the world, would seem to preclude the adoption of policies that can be widely perceived as morally deficient.

Yet from its first efforts to establish dominance beyond its borders to its newer status as the sole superpower, the United States has developed a template for its operations abroad that conflicts with the self-image.”


“Beginning with its first efforts to assert control over the Philippines in 1899, government rhetoric and reality clashed. In the Philippines, some U.S. troops tortured prisoners of war (most frequently with the ‘water cure’ currently known as waterboarding) and some commanders ‘took no prisoners’ even if this meant killing every male capable of bearing arms…. In Vietnam, tiger cages, waterboarding, electric shocks, assassinations, abuses, kidnapping, and the summary executions in the Phoenix program of more than 20,000 suspected Viet Cong operatives without trial or due process were prominent features of a war the American public eventually repudiated for its brutality. These same practices migrated to Latin America, largely through the teachings of U.S. advisers, where they helped keep military dictatorships in power.…

“For the United States, making palatable its support for the often-unpalatable actions of its own officials or its allies has been a central problem from Vietnam to the current conflicts in the Middle East.…

“[Though] every president since [Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon] has made rhetorical support for human rights and/or democratization a cornerstone of foreign policy — [and] however reassuring and popular the rhetoric has been — it seldom stands up against the primary goal of defending certain visions of national security. Nor has it ever been enough in situations in which allies or … rogue U.S. officials and advisers might be running amok. Under these circumstances, the temptation to dissemble [put on a false appearance: conceal facts, intentions, or feelings under some pretense] is not only enormous; it also can appear vital for protecting what an administration chooses to define as the ‘national interest.’”


Torture breeds terrorism http://torturebreedsterrorism.wordpress.com/
“Deniability is a collusive business. Allies use ‘deniability’ to hide or downplay (as much as possible) the extent of human rights violations. U.S. officials, in turn, use deceptive rhetoric to ‘reshape’ their allies into ‘freedom fighters’ in order to win and retain support from U.S. citizens. Together their actions produce a form of ‘double deniability.’”

Sources and notes

Notes from The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse edited by Marjorie Cohn. New York: New York University Press, 2011, pp. 70-71

Chapter 3: “U.S. Foreign Policy, Deniability, and the Political ‘Utility’ of State Terror— Case of El Salvador” by Terry Lynn Karl

Marjorie Cohn is a Professor of Law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, http://www.marjoriecohn.com/index.html

Terry Lynn Karl is Gildred Professor of Latin American Studies, Stanford University, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, http://iis-db.stanford.edu/staff/2128/Terry_Karl-CV.pdf.


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