The Bush Administration, Human Rights, and a Culture of Torture

By Christopher P. Federici
2010, Vol. 2 No. 05 | pg. 1/1

For most Americans, 9/11 represents a turning point for our country. It is the beginning of a new chapter in our relations to the world and how we view our place in it. It is the beginning of a chapter where the American commitment to human rights was put in doubt, war was waged, and potential crimes were committed in the name of national security. The nineties by comparison were a prosperous time for Americans and the country. The economy grew by leaps and bounds; democracy was flourishing throughout the world. Even our old enemy, the mighty Soviet Union, turned out to be nothing more than lies and charade, collapsing in real time under the weight of itself. We assumed that practices such as aggression, totalitarianism, and even war itself would soon be extinguished from the world. These assumptions may have been naive, but it would have been hard to imagine on September 10th how far steeped in the “the dark side” we would find ourselves in the years following the attacks.1

While the true full story is not yet know, we know from a number of sources, most importantly the congressional report produced by Representative John Conyers and Inspector General reports by the Justice Department, that violations in American and International law were undertaken by the Bush administration. The goal of this paper is to study not only what these violations were and how they happened, but to probe deeper into the psychological effects 9/11. The arguments and actions taken by the Bush administration have been very persuasive to many Americans. How has our culture changed in the previous decade? The goal is to look at what has been unleashed from the Pandora’s box in this new culture where torture, abuse, and erosion of rights are considered acceptable. Ultimately, the upshot of what has happened since 9/11 demonstrates more than ever the importance of a “commitment to executive constitutionalism from those who seek and serve in the office of the President of the United States”.2 Aspects of daily life taken for granted before have gained new importance. For instance we used to think we were safe getting on a plane, but now the rules in place are downright draconian. We take off our shoes and are forbidden to carry on liquids even though the benefit of these rules is more psychological than functionary. A whole segment of the population will forever be looked on suspiciously. Our fears have become internalized and a price has been paid.3 Yet America should and can still be a country that upholds its ideals while keeping itself safe.

Response to 9/11

In the days following 9/11, President Bush sought approval from Congress to use military force if necessary against those states that were complicit in the attacks or sheltered those who planned them. Congress quickly granted Bush this right. On September 18th, 2001 Bush signed into law the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which granted Bush the authority to:

“Use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 200, or harbored such organizations or person, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the united states by such nations, organizations or person.”4

It is important to note the distinction between what this declaration says, and a full declaration of war by Congress. The AUMF was clearly crafted in as broad a manner as possible to allow for executive maneuvering, but it did not declare war on any one state. This is representative of the fact that while it is called the “war on terror”, in reality it is unlike any war the U.S has ever fought before. Bush reorganized the nations law enforcement and intelligence services in the biggest government shuffle since World War Two with the formation of the cabinet level Homeland Security Department. Congress also passed the Patriot Act in 2001. Some members of Congress later expressed frustration in their efforts to supervise use of the Patriot Act because of stonewalling by the Justice Department as to exactly how or where the act was being used.5 Another example of the Administration going over Congress’ head was the drafting of the legal memorandum by John Yoo. The memo stated that the President’s constitutional right to use war powers domestically and take preemptive actions abroad could not be constrained by Congress. Yoo argued that since Congress’ powers are designated as strictly legislative, and the President’s are executive, “the decision to deploy military force is executive in nature…” and is therefore “…exclusively entrusted to the President.”6 We will see this line of constitutional thought employed by the administration later under the topics of interrogation and surveillance.

The first action undertaken with this new AUMF was the invasion of Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is generally seen as a war of necessity. This made sense because it was the base of operations for Al-Qaeda and intelligence suggested Osama was hiding in the country. The Taliban government refused to give up Osama Bin Laden following repeated requests by Bush. Many people, particularly Cheney, believed that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda posed an existential threat to American security. Even Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes against Al-Qaeda training facilities in the nineties. Failure to find Bin Laden dead or alive has continued to confound American intelligence though. In the end, Al-Qaeda has at least been weakened and its operational capacities constrained. As the role of the American presence shifted towards national building, the connection between our presence and terrorism has become less visible over time. But for many Americans it remains important that we stay to finish the fight. As far as overt participation in the war against terror, the wars in the Middle East were the most visible and involved. Only later did the world learn of the more covert side of the war on terror that was being waged.

The Secret War

This secret war would turn out to be quite extensive indeed. For the average American, the programs created remained behind the scenes. We were asked by the president to return to normal, to go shopping, and to show the terrorists that no matter what they did, they couldn’t hurt us.7 Now America, like all free countries of the world, does not wish to wage war. Yet we do not hesitate to stand up for ourselves when challenged. Many of the past wars have often involved national sacrifice, a shared sense of purpose. During World War Two, people bought government bonds and recycled materials. Even divisive wars such as Vietnam were paid for through higher taxes. In 1968 for example a 10% surtax was imposed, which raised revenue by about 1% of GDP.8 This time, the Bush administration made a decision to keep the public as disengaged as possible. Sure they promoted patriotism, supporting the troops, and all the other jingoistic ideas, but real sacrifice would not be needed. As it turned out, this policy of disengagement dovetailed perfectly with the behind the scenes programs being undertaken. The less the American public was interested in specifics, the more latitude the administration had to wage the war on terror. A culture of torture and constitutional abuse is easier to create when the world is oblivious.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush Administration was presented with a new problem. While it is true that the established laws of war permit the capture and detention of enemy soldiers for the duration of the conflict in the battlefield, the Bush administration invoked new terminology to skirt the law.9 This new enemy would no longer be called a soldier, but an “enemy combatant”. Three critical decisions were made in the initial few months following 9/11. The first was deciding to implement a military commission built from scratch outside of the existing Code of Military Justice. Second, the administration decided to hold detainees at Guantanmo Bay in Cuba in hopes of placing inmates outside of jurisdiction for US courts. Lastly, it was decided that prisoners would not be entitled equal treatment as prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions.10 Many of the incidents and questionable decisions made in later years can be traced back to these three decisions. These decisions essentially dehumanized detainees by denying them rights that other prisoners, and humans in general, receive. Following 9/11 people were more inclined to trust the office of the President and when the Bush administration claimed that these prisoners fell outside the Geneva conventions, the public believed it. The desire for revenge following 9/11 made people more willing to look at these prisoners in a way different than ourselves.

The legal rationale for many of these decisions has been found to originate in the Department of Justices Office of Legal Council. (OLC) The particular memo regarding military commissions is dated November 6th, 2001. The opinion is remarkable for its claims of executive authority. It said that, “even if congress had not sanctioned the use of military commissions to try all offenses…the President, exercising his authority as Commander in Chief, could order the creation of military commissions to try such offenses.”11 Even if Congress had tried to constrain the activities of the Administration at this point, Bush would have likely just ignored them.

Institutionalizing Torture

Following the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration suddenly found itself with a wealth of potential intelligence. The military had captured dozens of high level Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners. It was extremely likely that at least some of these prisoners had operational intelligence on current or future operations. One famous example is Abu Zubaydah. Considered a senior lieutenant to Bin Laden, Zubaydah was placed into the custody of the CIA in early 2002.12 At this point the CIA and other branches of the US government were unsure what the precise rules were about interrogating suspects. In essence, to protect itself from criminal liability, the CIA asked the Administration how far it could go in interrogating suspects. Two men in the OLC, John Yoo and Jay Bybee wrote what are now called the “torture memos”. In response to the requests made by the CIA and White House they wrote a memo that narrowly defined torture as rising to the level of organ failure or death.13 It was so broadly written that essentially any act inflicted on a person that failed to reach those levels would be legal under the law. Again, the president’s executive authority is cited when the memo cites that barring a clear statement in statute otherwise, the President has ultimate authority over the conduct of war.14 The types of methods ultimately used include sleep depravation, slapping, environmental stress, and death threats and mock executions.15 These methods were all later confirmed in a Justice Department report on the OLC conduct in the formation and implementation of the torture memos.

It has often been claimed that abuses were singular and the result of individual guards breaking the rule or commanders giving illegal orders. The abuses documented at Abu Gharib Prison In Iraq are often seen as the defining case of moral and regulatory breakdown. The fact of the matter is that war is always going to involve instances of personal atrocities and error in judgment. The rules we have are in place to do our best to limit this sort of thing from happening and making sure soldiers retain their humanity. But what has happened post 9/11 is something deeper and more profound. No longer is the problem just the actions of a few individuals breaking the law, but that “the United States has developed and refined a callous and calculated method for extracting information and intimidating civilian populations.”16 The culture of torture is self-sustaining, and no less importantly, self-inflicted. When policy is order from the top down, however implicitly, it will infect the thinking at the lower level. Clearly no one ordered the specific treatment of detainees in such a way at Abu Gharib, but all the soldiers had to do was look around them and see that this behavior was allowed and even encouraged.

“Extraordinary Rendition”

The process of “extraordinary rendition” has actually been around before 9/11. Previous administrations would generally oblige requests by foreign states to transfer criminals to a state for the purpose of bringing criminal charges. There was cooperation amongst states on the matters of criminal justice.17 Instead it is now most commonly employed by western nations as a way to hold detainees in countries where the local authorities are a little more “coercive” with their interrogation techniques. The United States of course claims that detainees transferred to other countries are not tortured, but are kept there so as to keep them off American soil. In fact by force of law transfers are only allowed following written assurances by the destination state that the prisoner will not be tortured. Former attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has said that, “ We do not transport anyone to a country if we believe it more likely than not that the individual will be tortured.”18 While obviously a denial of knowledge on torture in and of itself, his statement is basically an admission that the renditions were occurring. His ambiguous statement also predictably leaves more than enough room for the United States to claim ignorance to any torture that may occur as a result of transferring detainees. If torture does occur abroad, it can even be brought to court in the United Sates under the Torture Victim Prevention Act, wherein citizens or aliens may bring suit against foreign agents for torture.19 Yet because the act of torture is so hard to prove, it is often allowed to go unpunished. The Bush administration has defended the practice as a valuable tool in the war on terror. It remains unknown how many people have been transferred since 9/11.

One administration official involved in the program described rendition this way, “We don’t kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them.”20 This statement represents an attitude of gross negligence if true. It again represents what became acceptable that was previously against the law. The federal Torture State explicitly criminalizes torture and conspiracy to commit torture. This includes torture committed outside the United States. It is highly likely that the officials involved in the rendition program could be held criminally liable if charges were ever brought.21

Concurrently with the operation of extraordinary rendition was the CIA’s use of secret prisons and the “ghosting” of detainees. According to press accounts, six days after 9/11, President Bush issued a classified order giving the CIA permission to capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects.22 The directive even goes as far as to allow the detention of individuals without any official record of doing so. It is a scary order to imagine that people were literally whisked away in the middle of the night to secret “black sites” and were held there without any contact to the outside world. Detainees had no legal representation and were not allowed visitation by international organizations such as the Red Cross or Amnesty International.23 Actions like this were common in many regimes that would be considered tyrannical by today’s standards. Pinochet in Chile was famous for instance for ordering the kidnapping of civilians. People would be kidnapped in the middle of the night and their families would have no idea where they were. Is this the company the United States wants to keep? “Ghosting” was a similar tactic wherein detainees would be held at facilities, usually in Iraq, without the authorities officially acknowledging or registering them as inmates.

A number of those people taken or “ghosted” were later shown to have been innocent. Maher Arar is one of the most famous examples of an innocent person wrongly detained. A Canadian citizen by birth and of Syrian descent, Arar was pulled aside at JFK airport in New York on his way home to Montreal after visiting family in Tunis. Apparently Arar used to be friends with a man whose brother was wanted by the CIA. What followed was an example of the worst sort of abuses that can occur when you begin down the slippery slope towards a culture of torture. First held in an immigration prison for eight days in New York, Arar was subsequently transferred to CIA control who then shipped him to Syria where he was placed in a prison. Arar described his ordeal thusly, “The cable is a black electrical cord, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body…I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming.”24 Under this torture, Arar even falsely admitted to training in Afghanistan. He was eventually released and CIA officials have dubbed his case and others like his as examples of “erroneous rendition”.25 That admission is little comfort to those whose lives have been disrupted.

Domestic Surveillance

Throughout our history, personal privacy has formed one of the cornerstones of American ideals. So when on December 16, 2005 the New York Times broke the story of warrant less domestic surveillance, it was quite a shock. It turned out that the National Security Agency had been operating a special program, at the President’s request, that for the past four years had been intercepting international telephone calls or emails that originated or terminated in the United States.26 Technology has greatly expanded the capabilities of both sides in the war on terror. Use of technology allows terrorist to remotely plan attacks and spread propaganda. At the same time, when used in a responsible manner, we can fight back. Many Americans seem to think it is important for our government to use all of the tools at its disposal. A telephone poll conducted by the University of Southern Maine showed a majority, 56 percent, to actually be in favor of intercepting emails.27 The issue with the Bush program was that it bypassed safeguards in place already established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The decision to pull a run-around is even more puzzling considering that since it’s inception, the special court established by FISA had granted nearly 19,000 requests by authorities and rejected only five.28 Administration attempts to justify the program were not very successful. It claimed that legality to establish the program was authorized under the AUMF. Once more John Yoo was involved as well, working closely with the Vice Presidents office. Cheney characterized the program this way, “We are talking about international communications, one end of which we have reason to believe is related to Al Qaeda… This is a wartime measure, limited in scope to surveillance associated with terrorists, and conducted in a way that safeguards the civil liberties of our people.”29 Compounded with the revelations regarding torture and rendition, abuses of surveillance clearly followed the steps of similar paths set earlier. It was clear by this point that the Administration viewed itself as wholly above the law and believed that it had the power to act however it thought necessary in the war on terror. A scared and submissive public may have only increased that perception.

Incredibly, during the final vote on the AUMF, the administration even sought to allow the use of war powers within the United States. Senator Daschle recalled that, “the administration sought to add the words, ‘in the United States and’…This would have given the President broad authority to exercise war powers not just overseas… but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens.”30 This revelation serves as a coda of sorts for everything that has already been discussed and really drives home how seriously the Bush administration viewed the war on terror.

Mass Media, the Public, and the War on Terror

Mass media and new technology have also made the war on terror more accessible and stimulating than previous conflicts. What happens abroad can be reported on and disseminated in real time. This is both a plus and negative. For one thing, we can hold our government more accountable. Even the most secret programs instituted by the Bush Administration have been revealed over time. On the other hand, this exposure may potential make us less safe by hampering the ability of our government to work in secret and fight the terrorists. People can be potentially be influenced by what they see and read.

In a coincidental twist of historical fate, the television show “24” debuted just weeks after the attacks on 9/11. Staring Keifer Sutherland as federal agent Jack Baur, the show followed the adventures of the hero as he raced against the clock to stop potential terrorist attacks and plots against the United States. After 9/11, the producers were concerned that America would not be ready for a show about terrorism, that it would seem too real. Because the show focuses in real time on a terrorist attack, Jack Baur will frequently encounter what are know as ticking time bomb situations. A terrorist knows the information needed to stop an attack. Jack Bauer needs said information. Viewers are led to sympathize with the protagonist and made to believe that it was okay to torture someone under certain circumstances. One episode involved Jack Baur breaking a suspect’s handcuffed hands to gain intelligence after humanitarian lawyers had released the suspect earlier in the episode. In this instance, it demonstrated a repeated moral quandary of the series, wherein regardless of good intentions, those seeking to protect suspects' rights risk potentially helping terrorist activities.31 The fact that it took place in real time in US cities made it even scarier, driving home the point that this could happen anywhere.

The Hollywood movie Rendition, based loosely on the story of Maher Arar, shows the consequences of when good intentions can go wrong. The movie shows an American citizen being taken away under mistaken identity and flown to CIA black sites and tortured for information. In the end the man was guilty and freed thanks to the vigilance of his wife, played by Reese Witherspoon. Though this movie showed what happens when an innocent person is accused, it also demonstrated the ruthlessness of our agencies and how far our government is willing to go. Other movies demonstrate our ruthlessness as well such as Body of Lies staring Leo Dicaprio as a CIA agent in the Middle East. The problem is when we condition the public to a certain set of behaviors, it is what they come to expect in the real world.

Even the news can be complicit in driving the narrative of the discussion. Fox News is routinely accused of presenting viewpoints that are less than morally sound. Many of the commentators on the show, including elected conservative officials, demonstrate a willingness to deny detainees their rights and to go as far as necessary in the fight against terrorism. Reflecting the partisan nature of the debate, Democrats are routinely shown as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the lives of Americans. When the Obama Justice department released the torture memos, detailing many of the actions taken by Bush with regards to interrogation, the reporters at Fox openly mocked the claims that these acts violated international law.32 Playing on viewers fears that these acts were done only to terrorists and to the people who want to kill us conditions viewers to rationalize this sort of behavior. It abuses the inherent trust that people place in the media.

Movies and television also rarely show the lasting consequences of torture and debasement. In reality it can be a traumatic and scarring for those involved, both for the person tortured and the one who does it. For example on 24, one federal employee, interrogated with tasers to discover if she was a terrorist mole, subsequently returns to work showing no signs of trauma. She even goes so far as to renegotiate her terms of employment with her superior, who approved her interrogation just hours earlier.33 Is it likely this situation would play out so neatly in real life? If the public becomes used to a world where the use of torture and illegal activities saves lives without lasting harm, then they would come to expect this sort of behavior in real life.

Effect on America

Given the evidence, the question must be asked: what has this meant for America? Are we willing to cast aside our rights and ideals in the name of national security? It appears the answer to that question, like all aspects of this issue, is more complicated that it seems. The truth is that the answer is both no and yes. There is polling that at times shows Americans are willing to support torture in specific instances, but not as a general policy. Polling done after 9/11 shows a marked increase in the amount people are willing to sacrifice for national security, with a majority of people thinking it was going to be necessary to give up certain rights to fight terrorism.34 Predictably, America’s diversity came under attack as well, given the nature of the attacks. A Gallup poll found that half of Americans favored the idea of Arabs carrying special identification papers for example.35 At the same time, some of the traditional expectations have remained durable. Polling, even after 9/11, has consistently found Americans unwilling to make it easier for intelligence agencies to monitor personal telephone calls and emails.36 It would seem that people are more willing to compromise in the case of specific instances, but not for undefined threats. This makes sense based on past experiences. A concrete threat is always easier to identify with. If a threat is real it can create the sense that appropriate measures should be taken to stop it. For example, a Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of those surveyed thought the attempted Christmas day bomber should be water boarded for information. Considering the majority of Americans in a previous CNN poll (69 percent) thought waterboarding was a form of torture, it seems that the threat of this specific attack is enough to change the way people think about the issue.37 This contradictory phenomenon can make gauging the attitudes of Americans trickier than it would first appear.

The one point always driven home by the Bush administration was that anything they were doing was being done to keep America safe. There was never even a cost benefit rational, but a matter of doing whatever it took, with the ends justifying the means. Testimony by Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson is quite damning in particular towards Cheney and Rusmfeld. For example, Colonel Wilkerson said that Vice President Cheney and Defense Sec. Rumsfeld deemed the incarceration of innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured in the process. At the time they were looking for a better intelligence picture of Iraq when the Bush Administration was desperate to find a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, “thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country”.38 Yet in the end, the actions taken by the administration, including possible abuses of torture, have been found to be largely ineffective and may ultimately done more harm than good. The CIA Inspector Generals (IG) report from 2004 found that, “The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured."39 Defenders of the Administration have relied on two main arguments. The first is that what prisoners were subjected to was not actually torture, and that even if it was, these were very bad men who had it coming. While the first point may be subjective, knowing that innocent people were included taints the entire process, whether it was effective or not. CIA officers confirmed this fact when they told the IG that accusations "unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques without justification."40 America had the tools it needed already to fight terrorism, without resorting to the lure of torture and the creation of a culture that allows it.

The United States is partner to a variety of international treaties and obligations concerning human rights and treatment of detainees. The most well known and applicable is the Geneva conventions. The other major treaty that was possibly violated was the United Nations Convention against Torture. The United States has always held itself to a higher standard. One of the consequences of victory in World War Two was an opportunity to conceptualize and establish the framework of human rights in place today. Following 9/11 the Bush administration made a number of decisions that many feel are in violation of these statutes. Issues already discussed such as extraordinary rendition, unlawful detention and enhanced interrogation may all be potential crimes under international law. For instance, although Bush withdrew the United States’ signature from the International Criminal Court (ICC) covenant in 2002, the ICC can still, under limited circumstances, prosecute states not party to the treaty.41 Torture and other violations of human rights are considered inalienable peremptory norms, derogation from which is unlawful under international norms. This means that just because the United States isn’t member to a specific treaty, violation of this norm would be illegal. It would still be up to a court to determine guilt, but the important point is that members of the administration could potentially find themselves in legal trouble if they ever left the country.

The Way Forward

After the string of Supreme Court decisions that invalidated much of the approach Bush took towards detainees, it became necessary to decide what path we wanted to take. Naturally, Bush and the Republicans wanted to isolate the prisoners as much as possible and favored trying the in the established military tribunals which have existed for years. Democrats favored trying them in civilian courts. Bush himself had in fact earlier tried the shoe bomber Richard Reid in civilian courts before the implementation of his new secret tribunals. Democrats wondered aloud why if it worked for Reid, why not other terrorists?

Attorney General Holder and President Obama had decided early on to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad in a civilian court. The trial was announced to take place just a few blocks away from the former twin towers. This decision resulted in a firestorm of criticism. Many claimed it was irresponsible to give him a trial where he might be found innocent and given a chance to spread his anti-American propaganda. Others felt it was callous to bring the man back to the place he did so much damage. Holder and other Democrats thought it was only right that he should be found guilty in a court of law and legally sentenced. This would serve the purpose of lowering the terrorist to the level of a criminal and ensuring we upheld the rule of law.

Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney has become a more vocal critic of Obama in recent years. With her father out of power, she has taken it upon herself to defend the Bush administration’s legacy and justify what occurred. She gained notoriety in the fall of 2009 for claiming in an ad that the Department of Justice was sympathizing with the terrorists. She called it the Department of Jihad. After the failed Christmas Day attack, Republicans blasted the Obama Administration for failing to connect the dots. In the eyes of the public, the Republicans have tried to paint themselves as the party that is tough on terrorists. Yet it was Ronald Reagan, an icon in conservatism, that initially signed the United States to the UN ban on torture that even made no allowances for security threats. In drawing the argument to its logical conclusion, Steve Chapman describes it thusly:

“Reagan undoubtedly knew what modern conservatives forget—that once you rationalize torture, there is no logical place to stop. If threatening a prisoner with a power drill is permissible, why not drilling holes in him? If choking is OK, why not strangulation? If threatening to kill a detainee's children passes muster, why not actually killing them? If 30 wall slams don't do the job, why not 100?”42

One of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign an executive order, mandating the closure of Guantanmo Bay within a year. Clearly this has not yet happened. Questions remain about where to place the prisoners, and the culpability of American officials upon release. Additionally, fears of housing dangerous terrorists have led many states to rejecting the possibility of accepting prisoners. In principle at least, Obama continues to agree with the Conyers report findings that, “…detainees accused of hostile conduct should, as a general matter, be charged with federal offenses and tried in the Unite States courts.”43 While Osama clearly deserves life in prison or death, remarks by Holder to congress clearly demonstrate how the mindset established after 9/11 has become entrenched. The attorney General has said that we will only be reading Osama his rights to a dead corpse. The rule of law should be above desires for revenge, no matter how strong the feelings are.

The Obama administration for its part has now been placed in the unenviable position of acknowledging the past, while focusing on the future. Those on the left want the Bush administration held accountable. Progressives think charges should be brought against those who authorized or committed crimes. Republicans on the other hand are adamantly against what they see as vindictive retribution. The other problem is that power gained is not power easily taken away. Presidents have historically been reluctant to reduce power that they have accrued, regardless of ideology. Obama himself has been subject to criticism that he is following too closely in the mold of the Bush administration. Many of the campaign promises have yet to be implemented, particularly regarding detention, and executive authority.

Looking back at the last decade in America shows both how far we have come, and how far we have to go. The country has always faced numerous challenges to national security. During the civil war Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. During World War Two Roosevelt approved plans for interring Japanese heritage American citizens in detainment camps. Scott Matheson describes the Bush response thusly, “In fact, the growth of judicially recognized civil liberties since World War Two has established stronger protections against significant infringement during wartime. But recent experience shows that new threats to security can bring new threats to liberty.”44 So far Obama has made clear he has no intention of dredging up the past. He has said he wants to focus on closing Guantanamo Bay and making sure the abuses that happened under Bush never happen again. At some point though, America will need to confront its own culture of torture. 9/11 was a deeply traumatic event for the country. But it did not destroy us. Al-Qaeda does not pose an existential threat to America. Is the acceptance of a culture of torture worth what America stands for? As long as the war on terror lasts, questions like this will be asked and only the American people themselves will be able to answer.


Bartlett, Bruce. The Cost of War. ( November 26, 2009), Accessed April 7, 2010

Brown, Cynthia. Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom. (New York: The New Press, 2003.) 

Chapman, Steve. "Rationalizing Torture." Reason Magazine. 27 Aug. 2009. Web. 13 Apr. 2010. .

Conyers, John. Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of George W. Bush : House Committee on the Judiciary Majority Staff Report to Chairman John C.Conyers, Jr. (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.)

Crotty, William. The Politics of Terror: The U.S. Response to 9/11. (Boston: northeastern University Press, 2004.)

Green, Adam. Normalizing Torture on 24. ( 22 May 2005), Accessed April 7, 2010

Hooks, Gregory, and Clayton Mosher. "Outrages against Personal Dignity: Rationalizing Abuse and Torture in the War on Terror." Social Forces 83.4 (2005): 1627-645. JStore. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. http:/

Honigsberg, Peter. Our Nation unhinged. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009)

Knowles, David. "Poll Finds Americans Favor Waterboarding Christmas Day Terror Suspect - AOL News." AOL News. Dec. 2009. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. .

Matheson, Scott. Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.)

Media Matters, Fox News greets alleged torture with antics. April 23, 2009

Otterman, Michael. American Torture. (London: Pluto Press, 2007)

Reid, Tim. "George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo Prisoners Were Innocent'". Times Online. 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2010.

1.) John Conyers. Reigning in the Imperial Presidency (New York, Skyhorse Publishing, 2009) 72

2.) Scott Matheson. Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2009)

3.) William Crotty. The Politics of Terror (Boston, Northeastern University Press, 2004) X

4.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 28

5.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, 120

6.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 29

7.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, X

8.) Bruce Bartlett, The Cost of War,

9.) Brown, Lost Liberties, 87

10.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 74

11.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 76

12.) Peter Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2009) 25

13.) Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 26

14.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 113

15.) Michael Otterman. American Torture (London, Pluto Press, 2007) 131

16.) Hooks, Outrages against Personal Dignity: Rationalizing Abuse and Torture in the War on Terror, 1628 

17.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 138

18.) Otterman, American Torture, 113

19.) Otterman, American Torture, 121

20.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 138

21.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 138

22.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 139

23.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 139

24.) Ottermn, American Torture, 122

25.) Ottermn, American Torture, 122

26.) Matheson, Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times, 108

27.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, 184

28.) Matheson, Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times, 110

29.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 156

30.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 27

31.) Adam Green, Normalizing Torture on 24,

32.) Media Matters, Fox News greets alleged torture with antics, 

33.) Adam Green, Normalizing Torture on 24,

34.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, 173

35.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, 79

36.) Crotty, The Politics of Terror, 178

37.) Knowles, Americans Favor Waterboarding, AOL News

38.) Reid, George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent',

39.) Chapman, Rationalizing Torture, Reason Magazine

40.) Chapman, Rationalizing Torture, Reason Magazine

41.) Ottermn, American Torture, 131

42.) Chapman, Rationalizing Torture, Reason Magazine

43.) Conyers, Reigning in the Imperial Presidency, 277

44.) Matheson, Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times, 85

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2022, Vol. 14 No. 09
This interdisciplinary paper investigates the shortfalls and obstacles to success currently facing the climate movement, examining issues represented by the disconnect between policy and electoral politics, the hypocrisy and blatant indifference... Read Article »
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