January 22, 2012
DOCUMENTING AMERICA'S PROCLIVITY TO TORTURE
Robert M. Pallitto, ed., Torture and State Violence in the United States: A Short Documentary History (Baltimore; Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2011) ("Judith Shklar believed that for, for liberals, 'cruelty is the worst thing we do.' Yet state-enacted cruelty appears all too often in the record of U.S. history. If torture stands as the most extreme form of cruelty and torture is documented throughout the nation's history, we may well question the status of the liberal commitment to avoid cruelty. This book examines the relationship--indeed contradiction--between the liberal-democratic vision enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the state's support and use of torture and other state violence in the name of national security and freedom. To explore this subject, I draw on historical examples and documents far older than the 'war on terror' and even the Cold War, including some that date back to the early years of the republic, and trace the attitudes about the treatment of the actual bodies of torture victims that have developed against the background of a purportedly liberal political order." Id. at 1. "The documents reproduced in this book show that torture and associated practices of state violence have continued uninterrupted in the United States from colonial times through the present. Any claim that torture has decreased during a given period is true, at most, in relative terms. To be sure, slavery, 'settlement' of the frontier, and world war, among other events, provided increased opportunities for torture, but there is always one or more segments of the population facing such treatment no mater what large-scale conflicts are occurring. Thus, commentators . . . , who see liberal principles guiding U.S. political development throughout the nation's history, must explain the co-presence of liberal ideas and striking illiberal practices. . . . Id. at 255.).