Torture–It’s the Economy, Stupid….

by Linda Beale

Torture–It’s the Economy, Stupid…..

Naked Capitalism ran a “guest post” by “George Washington” yesterday on Cheney’s role in furthering the Bush Administration’s torture agenda: Cheney Admits to Being a War Criminal, Naked Capitalism (Feb. 16, 2010).

Washington notes that the mainstream media’s approach to Cheney–letting him argue for torture without ever challenging him with tough questions–is “no different than interviewing Charles Manson and letting him argue–without challenge–that murder is a great thing.” And we are all guilty. “By failing to demand that torture stop and those who ordered it–like Cheney–be held to account, Americans are complicit in war crimes, just like the Germans who failed to stand up to Hitler were complicit in crimes against humanity.”

The preface argues that “torture is bad for the economy”, with a link to Washington’s own blog post on January 9 noting that “The Military-Industrial Complex is Ruining the Economy.”

The impact of militarization is huge, and the long-term wars we are engaged in currently, and their high costs, surely impact our economy. Surely the military-industrial complex and its demands on the tax system (and its potential threats to our democratic institutions) are viable topics at ataxingmatter, as part of the discussion of tax policy and institutional sustainability. The military-industrial complex gobbles up huge portions of the tax revenues that our system brings in. At the same time, our income tax provisions are extraordinarily vulnerable to the intensive lobbying of members of the military-industrial complex–from provision of multiple tax breaks to soldiers in the military front line to enormous subsidies for the natural resources extractive industries that feed barrels of oil into the pipeline of energy inefficient ships, planes, drones, trucks, and other energy gobblers in the military supply network. Taxing and spending go hand in hand–even when their relationship has been warped by the kinds of tax cuts passed in the Bush Administration that built in huge shortfalls of revenues in order to benefit the owner/manager class while at the same time treating war expenditures (and the future expenditures for replacement equipment and care of wounded necessitated by today’s war) as after-thoughts that could be added as supplemental budget items that are slipped through the legislative process without the kind of in-depth discussion and understanding that is required. As a result, we have followed a “make war now, figure out how to pay later” mentality. Put together with the huge, multiple Bush tax cuts–especially those for big corporations and their owners/managers–and the enormous financial commitment that was required to bailout the financial system because of its one-way-casino mentality (gamble the house’s money and if you lose, the house makes it up to you; if you win, you eat it all yourself and leave no crumbs for the house), we are left with an economic system that requires deep and thoughtful intervention to right itself–tax reforms to undo at least a portion of the disastrous Bush policies, financial institution reforms to break up the Big Banks and return them to quasi-public utility status where the public interest counters their private greed in the types of decisions they can make, and military reforms that include long-term thinking about the relationship between military decisions and the sustainability of democracy are at the very top of the list .

So how does torture–and the question of holding Bush administration officials accountable for using torture and advocating its use as a cornerstone of their approach to terrorism–relate to the economic/tax issues connected with the military-industrial complex? The following offers a sketch of considerations that support considering torture a tool of war that has particularly bad connotations in connection with the over-militarization of the economy.

First, torture was, under Bush, a key factor of war policy. It was openly advocated for by Cheney, and lawyers like Yoo in the administration pushed the boundaries (I would argue even “went beyond” the boundaries) of ethical requirements and competent representation to create some semblance of a legal foundation supporting the policy (and protecting the state actors who were embarking on it). Torture was thus demonstrably a key factor in the way the Bush Adminsitration fought its wars.

Second, torture as a practice weakens democratic institutions, since it can only be furthered through methods that run counter to our constitutional protections for due process–it demands that the executive powers be permitted to treat harshly those that are considered “other” without ordinary processes for first determining guilt before meting out punishment. In the Bush case, there was an affirmative decision to torture stemming from the undemocratic (and unsupported in our constitutional history) notion of a president with unilateral powers to do anything domestically or internationally, even actions contrary to domestic law and international treaties, under the presidential powers to conduct wars that Congress has declared–the absurdly undemocratic, fascist, militaristic, and anti-constitutional concept of a “unitary executive” pushed by the neo-cons to support the accretion of incredible powers to Bush because of his role as “commander in chief” of the armed forces.

Third, the use of torture invites a cycle of non-diplomatic and non-democratic responses. In a world context where even Democrats and Republicans have lost the art of reasonable compromise in pursuit of the greater good, it is not surprising that cultures that are as deeply opposed in values as (a) open democracies that strive for equal rights for women and men and freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion and (b) male-dominated theocracies where religion is imposed will find it hard to find avenues for working together for the common good. Add bias and assumptions about violence to the mix, add torture of those who perhaps are most prone to violent jihad to the mix, and the mixture becomes explose. As noted, torture represents a decision to deal brutally with those who are considered “other” than the governed people but for whom there have been no public processes to determine guilt or innocence. That lack of due process and lack of transparency breeds contempt for the government that embraces it–especially by those who bear the brunt of it. The widely disseminated photos of torture in the Abu Ghrab prison firmly fixed the image of “America as a torturing state” for those who were already prone to view the nation as biased against Islam and as a brutal state pursuing capitalism at any expense. Just as news of the Nazi concentration camps spread from one group of potential targets to another, the news of American use of torture and the intentionally anti-Islamic techniques (menstruating women, dogs, nakedness) must clearly have spread from one fervent Islamic group to another, reinforcing any hate and buttressing militant responses. Torture, in other words, breeds contempt, and contempt breeds war in a vicious cycle of brutal torture-hate-brutal response.

Thus, when torture and war crimes are furthered by top officials, the military economy is benefited and both democratic institutions and ordinary Americans are the losers. As one commentator on the Naked Capitalism post noted:

The only people who are intelligent, informed, AND support torture are the ones who WANT the US to have a lot of enemies, because they are in the pay of the military industrial complex. …They want a forever war. …[I]n the end, the neocons and the jihadis need each other for [their] own self-interests. Unfortunately, it’s the rest of us that end up paying. –Comment by “Skepticus Maximus”

So adding to the human rights and international treaty and domestic law arguments about holding the Bush Administration accountable is this economic/democratic institution argument . People like Cheney who advocated torture and legal advocates like John Yoo who facilitated it ought to be be held responsible not only because their actions violated the Geneva Convention and human rights agreements (we hanged Japanese prisoners for waterboarding) but because the advocacy and use of torture continue to threaten the foundations of the democratic institutions that we hold dear by underpinning an “above the law” military-industrial complex that is extraordinarily powerful and able to garner spending and tax provisions to its favor with apparent ease, with long-term deteriorative impact on the economy.
crossposted with ataxingmatter by Linda Beale