Torture: A By-product of Neoconservative Thinking


“One of the most atrocious violations against human dignity is the act of torture, the result of which destroy the dignity and impairs the capability of victims to continue their lives and their activities.”[1]

The spin which has been pumped regarding the true nature of US activities is based on a precedent of architecting lies and selling it to Western audiences by their “statesmen”. As I will allude to later in greater depth, it is the neoconservative thinking which has forged a path of deception which masks the truth from the public purely on the basis that the public cannot handle the truth (because they are incapable of doing so) and therefore they need to be sold “noble lies” to pursue objectives.

In 2007 Bush declared, “our government doesn’t do torture”, despite the fact that according to the Torture Report Bush had acknowledged the existence of the program on the 6th of September 2006. In other words, he lied. Leading up to the release of the report, Bush focussed on the “heroes” who were doing their “duty” thus repackaging his lies in the form of distorted and delusional patriotism. This “duty” has now had ramifications in Iraq and Syria.

Whilst our neocon statesmen were happily using the ISIS beheading videos as fodder to pursue military aggression abroad and enacting legislation banning dissent and policing thought at home, a small but significant aspect of the videos was conveniently ignored: the victims were garbed in Guantanamo Bay jumpsuits. Indeed a number ISIS operatives have been tortured by Western agencies at one point in time or another. The rules of war were “changed” escalating brutality. As highlighted by activist Asim Qureshi,

“The Islamic State exists, and it has not only secondary experience, but lived experience of the abuses carried out in the name of the War on Terror. The danger of that lived experience is not in just its disenfranchisement of those affected, it is that it will be given further oxygen to the idea the other new forms of abuse will somehow bring this conflict to an end.”

Neocon outlets like FOX began “shaping” the perception of the public which started buying into the utility of torture despite its ubiquitous status as completely unjustifiable and unworkable. Torture simply does not work. And this has been reinforced by the Torture Report which found such methods did not yield actionable intelligence which foiled plots. Instead it led the CIA to dead ends, and the US government to bad decisions. As Moazzam Begg noted, the torture of Ibn al Sheikh Al Libi resulted in a false testimony which linked Saddam to Al-Qaeda, forming the primary basis for the neocons in Washington and Britain to architect a war which has led to the appalling situation in Iraq and Syria.

The Torture Report

The 500 page summary of the 6000 page CIA Torture Report made for troubled reading.  As is widely known now, the CIA engaged in acts which well exceeded their already illegal authorised remit of torture vis-à-vis waterboarding, blasting loud music and stress positions.  What was not “officially” known was the number of times suspects were waterboarded, subjected to rectal feeding and rehydration without medical necessity (rape, basically), placed in “iced baths”, how threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat, were made nor how sleep deprivation of 180 hours was being inflicted.  Much has still been withheld by the CIA, which would further expose the truly nihilistic, sadistic reality of the “civilised” democracy.  Over the years reports, for instance, about one detainee having his genitals sliced with a scalpel, whilst at Bagram Western soldiers abusing Afghan boys, have surfaced.

Reading the Report demonstrates that the CIA was operating in its own lawless, unscrupulous world. It misrepresented the extent of torture to various government bodies and governments, leaked lies and disinformation to the media to favourably shape public opinion on torture, employed torturers who were known to be psychologically unstable and had a documented history of violence and abusive treatment to others, tortured individuals to injury and death and provided inaccurate information regarding such shameful actions, which was never corrected or reprimanded.   The sick actions are given a degree of context when combined with information that neocon Paul Wolfowitz’s relaxed rules around human experimentation which resulted in loopholes allowing for detainees to be used as for studies in behavioural modification. The Nazi legacy lives on.

The report casts damning conclusions on the (in)effectiveness of the use of torture to extract information.  It highlights a number of cases where the thwarting of terrorist attacks were falsely ascribed to torture confessions. For instance, a dirty bomb plot which was infeasible anyway, was foiled after a foreign government had given the US intel. CIA gave credit to their use of torture (CIA Torture Report p.225).  Similarly “Karachi bomb plots” were thwarted by unilateral operations by Pakistani authorities. It had nothing to do with the torture program (Ibid, p.239).

Lies, spin, torture, and human experimentation all with little to no effectiveness.  What went wrong?  As the report states (at Ibid p.6), “…existing U.S. law and treaty obligations should have prevented many of the abuses and mistakes made during this program”. So what happened? Neoconservatism is what happened.

The Neoconservative Understanding

Torture was legitimised at the upper echelons of the US government, which itself was shrouded by neocon advisors. If we look at the responses of the neocons today we can see that the same pathetic justifications, the same deflection and spin is used to down play torture by reminding people who the “real” enemy is.

Douglas Murray recently trivialised the findings by suggesting there are “degrees of torture” and by questioning the veracity of the Report. This is expected, given he believes human beings are clearly not equal and “Islamists” should be treated differently.[2]

US neocons have been no differently.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that torture did work and bluntly said, “I’ll do it again in a minute”. Danielle Pletka of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in an attempt to discredit the report’s findings, in five paragraphs defends torture, tells people to forget about the report and focus on those pesky Muslims who are the real enemies “from Yemen to Mali, from Iraq to Syria, from Sinai to Gaza and beyond”.

Neoconservative “governing philosophy” asserts “prudence” over principles. In the words of Irving Kristol, “there are occasions where circumstances trump principles.”[3] Michael Ledeen who advocates Machiavellian politics of force and fraud writes,

“Most of the conventional wisdom about leadership is dangerously wrong, because it suggests there is a set of unchanging principles…”[4]

Principles which include absolute human rights, and rule of law are to be whittled away over time to pursue politics.

Following Straussian Platonic dualism (as espoused in Irving Kristol’s review of Leo Strauss’ Persecution and the Art of Writing) such principles are for the “vulgar” people, not for the “wise” [neocon] statesmen few who can tear them up at leisure. They are the necessary “noble lies” to keep the people in an illusory state of “liberty”.

We have already seen Douglas Murray’s disdain for the European Convention of Human Rights, ironically pushed by Conservatives during its formation. The same level of denigration by neocons and casting-aside of international norms, (ironically the same norms born from a secular liberal paradigm which are exported through wars by neocon Western nations), exists. It is a natural extension of the neoconservative foreign policy. Neocon Max Boot writes,

“Their agenda is known as “neoconservatism,” though a more accurate term might be “hard Wilsonianism.” Advocates of this view embrace Woodrow Wilson’s championing of American ideals but reject his reliance on international organizations and treaties to accomplish our objectives. (“Soft Wilsonians,” a k a liberals, place their reliance, in Charles Krauthammer’s trenchant phrase, on paper, not power.)”

In other words, token authorisation by the UN for a war in Iraq would be nice, but if not, who cares? Hence Cheney on Sunday dismissed an appeal from Ben Emmerson, the UN Special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, to reopen inquires. Cheney stated,

“I have little respect for the United Nations, or for this individual, who doesn’t have a clue.”

Similar disregard would be taken to the fact that torture is prohibited by Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, American Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on Torture, thanks to John Yoo’s questionable, legal opinions allowing torture, circumventing the Geneva Convention and backing the warrantless wiretapping program.

Concluding Remarks

The neoconservative understanding which led to lies, torture and the Iraq war is the same agenda which is coursing through the government of Britain. Preventing and restricting government scrutiny, seeking immunity from accountability, abrading human rights and rule of law, establishment cover-ups are all aspects which have fast become hallmarks of the British government. Now, a spokesman for David Cameron has confirmed that the UK had been granted deletions in advance of the publication of the Torture Report.

This is but the legacy of the neocons.


[1] United Nations, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (New York: United Nations department of Public Information) 1993 para 55 (pt II).

[2] Douglas Murray, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Encounter Books: New York, 2006, p.215

[3] Irving Kristol, “When It’s Wrong to Be Right,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 1993

[4] Ledeen M., Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1999, 58-59

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