11/29/2004

Peter Linebaugh: Torture and Neo-Liberalism: Dehumanizing prisoners in Iraq

Great article by Linebaugh on Counterpunch: Hard to select the best parts.. -- law

Torture and Neo-Liberalism with Sycorax in Iraq

Summary:
1) To exploit workers neocons/ corporate capitalism must dehumanize worker bees, hence torture..

2) Almost anyone can torture a dehumanized target

3) This is nothing new. The same torture tactics were used against strong women (aka Witches) to beat them into submissive housewifes



a poem called "The Tortured,"

"Indifferent citizens don't care to look behind prisoner masks;
The tortured would stare back askant."

[the poet] has been behind the mask, yet looks at us with humanity and knowledge. She has a long poem called "Revelation" against the Puritanical strain of American imperialism. It refers to a cauterized memory:

"do you encounter the touch of the torch on the skin?"

"they singe the air with sanctimony,
light bonfires beneath the feet of non-conformity."

She refers to a rarely mentioned, still-silenced, profound trauma on this civilization ­ the burning of the witches...

-------
U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, disregarded torture in his infamous, post 9/11 memorandum to Bush: "In my judgment, this new paradigm [the 'war on terrorism'] renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

"Quaint," eh?

It might more aptly be applied to Magna Carta, the epitome of quaintness, though Professor Huntington of Harvard tells us in his screed to rid the nation of Hispanic cultural influence that the American creed, its cultural core, is Anglo, "going back to Magna Carta," which he thinks is somehow Protestant (Magna Carta 1215, Protestant Reformation 1517)! Furthermore, although it is such a quaint part of the Anglo core, it is not even written in English. Its most powerful part is chapter 39:

Nullus liber homo capiatur ....

Edward Coke provides the classic translation. Edward Coke was to the English Revolution of the 1640s as Rousseau was to the French Revolution or Marx to the Russian Revolution..

We parse the sentence in three parts ­ 1) the subject (no free man) is followed by 2) eight or nine proscribed actions making up the predicate which is then qualified by 3) a climax to the sentence stating two legal principles which provide the exceptions, trial by jury and law of the land... Coke begins his commentary distinctly, "this extends to villeins."

It's the second part which has such variety, taking, arresting, imprisoning, exiling, banishing, ruining, destroying, victimizing, and disseiseing. It too contains a huge amount of commentary, legal and otherwise. Habeas corpus, trial by jury, due process of law, and prohibition of torture as principles of law have quaintly stemmed from this statement. It is the last one that concerns us.

In some conservative translations aliquo modo destruatur is rendered "ruined," or "molested," or "victimized." To interpret the prohibition of torture as molestation or ruin or victimizing is to displace the damage away from the body. Coke glosses "any otherwise destroyed" as "That is forejudged of life or limb, disinherited, or put to torture or death." The expression, "life or limb," appears elsewhere in the Charter of Liberty, and it makes clear that the destruction which is referred to, is an action on the body, an actual dismemberment, a real mutilation. It is important for us to retain this classic translation - 'in any way destroyed' ­ for two reasons. First, it was retained in the Petition of Right (1628) whence chapter 39 was preserved and later perpetuated in the U.S. Constitution (see the 5th and 14th amendments among others), and second it was upon this translation that Edward Coke, and then the Levellers of the English Revolution based their opposition to torture.

History moved on: monarchy, republic, military dictatorship, monarchy again, Jacobites, Whigs, came and went, leaving chapter 39 as a residue which persisted despite the layering sediments of passing imperial forms . In his Commentaries on the Laws (1765-69) William Blackstone declared "the constitution [of England] is an utter stranger to any arbitrary power of killing or maiming the subject without the express warrant of law." He explains that the words aliquo modo destruatur "include a prohibition not only of killing and maiming, but also of torturing (to which our laws are strangers) and of every oppression by color of an illegal authority.....

Why does torture accompany economic development or primitive accumulation?.. Why is the violation fundamental legal principle, the integrity of the body, necessary to the policy of oil extraction, modernization, and free marketing?

In 1994 the U.S.A. ratified the UN Convention Against Torture that barred torture and other "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." In Guantánamo Bay prison six hundred prisoners kept in steel-mesh cages reminiscent of the cages which uppity women used to be put in to during the European Renaissance.

In general however, an impression of complacency is formed from reading over the various American manuals of torture techniques that the CIA, the School of the Americas, &c., employ because they seem to avoid such devices, like cages, in the technology of torture.. Decades of research in university psychology departments and lavish CIA hand-outs have produced the "psychological torture." General Miller in Guantánamo used sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, placing prisoners in stress positions for agonizing lengths of time.

This however was only to take a leaf out of the four-and-a-half centuries-old classic, The Discovery of Witches (1647) by Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-Finder General. He used swimming (cold water ordeal), watching (forced to sit on stool for long period under observation), and walking (deprived of sleep for long periods) as well as pricking (using a needle to probe the perineum) as a means of interrogating suspects and finding witches. He was personally responsible for the death of scores of women between 1645-6, including nineteen at one mass hanging. Parliament disallowed his method of 'swimming' the witch, or 'throwing a trussed-up woman into a pond to see if she sank.' But Parliament permitted the others: starvation, sleep deprivation, walking the accused up and down until her feet blistered and mind wandered, solitary confinement, and prolonged sitting in a single position in order to produce utter exhaustion, or, euphemistically, 'stress.'

There is a tension in English history between the practice of torture and its prohibition... Coke said, "there is no law to warrant tortures in this land, nor can they be justified by any prescription ," and Blackstone called the rack "an engine of state, not of law" Now, it must be said, as we learn from Professor Langbein (an authority which the Harvard torture booster, Alan Dershowitz, depends on) that Edward Coke, like Francis Bacon or Isaac Newton, himself participated in the torture of suspects. Evidence that Blackstone did as well has yet to come to light, and though we doubt that it shall, would we be so surprised if it did?

In American history the contradiction is similar: at one pole, the 8th amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, while at the other pole, the application of torture to Indians and of torture to slaves was systematic.

The Abu Ghraib tortures were prepared for by White House and Pentagon lawyers. The "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism" refers to the U.S. Supreme Court cases concerning prison which have changed the meaning of the 8th amendment. It used to be that it focused on the severity, deprivation, hurt, of the prisoner's person. Under eroding decisions by the Rehnquist court it came to focus on the intention, motivation, and good faith of the prison keepers. Most astonishing was a Defense Department analysis of March 2002 which concluded that the President was authorized to use torture as long as he could "negate a showing of specific intent by showing that he had acted in good faith" (Hersh, 18).

The unspoken assumption is that prisoners are not persons. Justice Brennan in Furman v. Georgia (1972) signalled the significance of the 8th amendment as forbidding the treatment of "members of the human race as nonhumans." A category is created of the stigmatized, the dehumanized, and, as it is essential to add, the demonized.
Peter Linebaugh: Torture and Neo-Liberalism with Sycorax in Iraq

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