Paul Jacob

After the first weeks and months of furor over the Abu Ghraib prison revelations, after the official protestations of innocence and shock, and after Congress did its bit in front of the cameras, the issue of torture has calmed and Americans have moved on to other issues.

It will not likely slip entirely from mind, though, especially as new revelations emerge. There are many reports from around the world ? not all of them equally believable, but in toto impossible to dismiss ? that paint the torture policy as both broader and deeper than the government would like us to believe.

Seymour Hersch, in the middle of his own investigation, shakes his head and speaks darkly of a vast array of crimes against humanity, of greater brutality than so far made public. We hear of deliberate religious defilements, of children being tortured ad used as leverage against their parents, of systematic cruelty added onto sexual humiliation, and even sodomistic rape.

In May, when the issue was still quite hot, I hotly excoriated the policy of torture, and argued that it was corrupting both morally and practically. I note now that the extent of the practice could hardly be justified on any sane ground. Most of those subjected to torture were and are innocent, and the so-called reasoned cases for torture rest upon it being an exceptional thing, applied only to the demonstrably guilty. Torture as a way of "information retrieval" (shades of Orwell's 1984, shades of Gilliam's Brazil) has been far more extensive than a coherent (if reprehensible) policy would have allowed.

So why did the policy degrade into a widespread catastrophe?

The answer, I hazard, is linked to two related topics:

  1. Why human beings in some circumstances behave in horrible ways, so readily.
  2. Why we need a rule of law and a strict adherence to it.

Shock Without Awe

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.