Revolution #164, May 17, 2009

A Historical Parallel

Providing the kind of sophisticated, high-powered legal justification for illegal torture found in the Bush regime’s torture memos has an ominous precedent. In a recent column, Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes about this historical parallel:

The problem: The nation has been on a war footing for years. Elected leaders believe it is full of sleeper cells of subversives. Officials in the capital decide that torture should be applied to detained subversives (whether to spread terror among their fellows, extract intelligence, or produce confessions is unclear). But law enforcement officers are uneasy about applying ‘more rigorous interrogation’ techniques.”

And, Kadidal reports the solution:

“[A] confidential memorandum, the joint product of the highest officials in the intelligence and justice departments, setting forth in extraordinary detail when certain techniques could be applied, the specific equipment to be used in such interrogations, the number of times certain techniques could be used on certain categories of detainees, and so forth—and specifically promising immunity from prosecution when the rules are followed scrupulously.”

Finally, Kadidal notes the time and place:

“Not Washington, DC circa 2002-2005, but rather Nazi Germany, June 4, 1937.” (“The Torture Memos: Berlin, 1937 Version,” by Shayana Kadidal, Huffington Post, April 21, 2009.)

The parallel is valid and sobering. The legalizing of torture was a significant element in the Nazi’s legitimization of their program. It was part of the legitimizing of the Nazis. It put a formal, legal stamp of approval on activity that, if perceived to be the work of brutish thugs acting outside the law, might have provoked more discontent and outrage.

Legalizing torture helped smooth the path for the acquiescence of “Good Germans” who went along with the Nazi program. After all, they could tell themselves, “it’s legal.”

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