Tag: cruelty

Torture and the theater of cruelty

We seem to have lost sight of a fundamental motivating factor in the torture controversy: torture made good political theater. The theatrical dimension of the punishment of America’s foes was made plain to me when I first saw pictures of Guantanamo captives kneeling in their orange jump suits. At first I thought that they were kneeling in prayer. Then I realized that they were in two lines facing in opposite directions. They were being made to kneel to humiliate them. (Later, I learned that they were also blinded and deafened by sensory deprivation gear.) Americans did not recoil from the humiliation of these prisoners (a clear violation of the Geneva conventions). No, most Americans delighted in the vengeance inflicted on the “worst of the worst.”

Not coincidentally, at the same time that the Bush administration’s theater of cruelty began its productions, the FOX television network launched the popular series “24,” which regularly featured the torture of terrorist captives. This torture was consistently depicted as successful and appropriate to dealing with the terrorist threat. Thus, the case can be made that Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their whole sick crew were using torture of captives to enhance the political popularity of the Bush administration. The mob was howling for vengance, and Rove, Bush, and Cheney gave it to them.

But mobs cool down, and in the cold gray light of dawn, as we survey America’s tattered reputation, the unavoidable question is “What were they thinking?” I submit that the answer is that Bush and Rove were thinking about the political gains to be achieved from feeding retributive violence to a bloodthirsty mob. It would be a grand reprise of an ambitious young Texas governor earning the praise of his savage constituents by setting a national record for executions. Bush used his record of eagerly killing convicts to rise to the Presidency, and he intended to increase his power by brutalizing captive “terrorists.”

The theater of cruelty has closed, temporarily, but many Americans have fond memories of its exciting productions, and they resent Obama for questioning the quality of its shows. Theaters can’t exist without an audience, and the torture scandal is ultimately a reflection of the blind, vindictive cruelty of the American people.