There is nothing new about torture in America or American governments exporting or carrying out torture on foreign shores. This article by Naomi Klein gives some idea of American torture dating back to the fifties. It puts me in mind of a conversation my cousin surprised me with last year, when he opened up as never before about his time served in Army Intelligence in Germany right after World War II.
"We didn't do any waterboarding, but there was something of a 'cowboy' atmosphere about interrogation--on their side as well as ours. Have you ever seen The Third Man? People being taken up in helicopters and dangled out the side. That kind of thing."
We don't have to stop at WWII. We can go back further, to the beating and punishment of slaves, the lynching of African Americans after Reconstruction, count as torture. What else does one call the forced march during the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee from Georgia, the Trail of Tears, except torture with the intent to commit genocide?
Perhaps you would like to impeach and then prosecute Barack Obama for backtracking on his promises to end torture, stop extraordinary rendition, and restore the rule of law. If so, you will find no end of assistance from the right, who have been ready since before the election to help you in your quest. Be prepared to hear about birth certificates and Tony Rezko as cause for impeachment, not necessarily outrage over torture. Although, you might be able to sway the conversation toward torture by reminding them that their beloved Ronald Reagan prosecuted a Texas sheriff and his deputies for waterboarding.
My own experience with the issue of prosecuting torturers stems from the case of John Burge, a Chicago police officer and torturer from 1970 to 1993. I was involved organizing an anti-gay-bashing campaign in 1992 and, working in coalition with other anti-violence organizations, was introduced to the case by The Task Force to Confront Police Violence. They promoted their cause with a little documentary called, The End of the Nightstick. The title comes from a quotation of a 19th century NYC police captain, "There is more justice at the end of my nightstick than there are in all the courts in the land."
John Burge has evaded prosecution for torture. The statute of limitations ran out in his case, so he has been indicted for lying under oath about it. That is the best that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald can do; after 200+ people being tortured by Burge and his men during his 20 year career, innocent people serving time for crimes they were forced to confess to, Burge will only be punished for lying about it--if Fitzgerald succeeds.
Here is the thing: Burge is not a "somebody", certainly not a somebody in the eyes of the neo-cons that ran our country into the cesspit. He will never be invited to go hunting with Dick Cheney or to one of Condi's piano recitals. He does not have exorbitant wealth. His police pension, which he still receives, is probably just $30,000 a year. He has had to put up his home in Apollo Beach, Florida as security for his $250,000 bond. Yet, this torturer of modest origins and means has managed to evade the law on his most heinous crimes.
What Burge does have is the police code of silence and the delays and evasions of Mayor Richie Daley. The pursuit of Burge has taken around 30 years and perhaps $17 million dollars and he has still to be put squarely in jail.
This is where the rubber hits the road. If freedom isn't free, then prosecuting people for taking away our freedoms really isn't free, in time or money. It takes the wiry, tenacious moral outrage of a Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor, to see it through. But more than that, Americans need to see their culture as one in which torture permeates and has a certain acceptance at every level. What you need for that to happen is a sea change; for the abolition of torture, the entire country needs to be pulled to the left.
Will it be pulled to the left if the left fails on the economy? We shall know very soon. This economy is not done pitching and rolling; 2010 mid-term elections are just around the corner, 2012 right around the next one.
One more thing: never assert that it's no good going after the small fries, when you can never get the big fish whose orders they were following. Burge is a small fry who learned his torture techniques in Vietnam. Small fries come home. Small fries can do a lot of damage in the little ponds they inhabit.