Apr 16

America: Torture “R” U.S.

In Brief — With Mike Pompeo — who believes in torture and “black sites”— as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), it’s time to look at America’s use of torture since the earliest days when colonists arrived on the country’s shores and stole the land from the natives. This piece examines the American use of torture against those deemed to be the “enemy” du jour.

Torture Reveals the Stupidity of the Torturer—


Every nation on the planet has used torture, but since the overwhelming majority of this blog’s readers are Americans, this piece discusses the use of torture by America. Despite what some want to believe, America is NOT exceptional.

The United Nations passed a treaty known as the Convention Against Torture. The U.S. signed and ratified that treaty and is bound by it. Essentially, it defines torture and sets forth the conditions binding the signatories to abide by its provisions. You can read this treaty by clicking on the highlighted portion above.

In Salem, Massachusetts and elsewhere in the American colonies during the 17th Century, the inhabitants, overwhelmingly religious folks, believed there were witches among them. To get the accused to confess, the accusers often believed it was necessary to torture the accused individuals into confessing before executing them. Though a person subjected to torture will normally admit anything to get the pain to stop, the accused was nevertheless executed—often in a cruel way — regardless of a confession or a claim of innocence.

Then there was Slavery. It’s right there in the Christian Bible approved by God. It’s what made capitalism successful and was widely used, even by several of the founding fathers. It was certainly an essential part of the culture of southern states before being abolished after the Civil War. As a matter of fact, slavery survives today in America although it has changed appearances. A number of corporations, and even the American government itself, take advantage of America’s large prison population, disproportionately people of color, to maximize profits.

But back to torture. Many slave owners, some of whom were alleged to be kind to their slaves, forced sexual intercourse on them. We call it rape. The Southerners were afraid their chattel would rebel and used assorted methods of torture to keep the slaves passive and cooperative. Brutal whipping was a common method of assuring cooperation. When whipping was not felt to be adequate, lynching uncooperative slaves was an accepted remedy. Fear of excruciating pain or death usually did the trick.

Moving on, we come to the 19th Century’s Spanish-American War and its offshoot in the Philippines. There are documented cases of American soldiers using waterboarding against the “enemy” of that period. As we now know, waterboarding is simulated drowning that has been used against prisoners, often repeatedly, at Guantanamo and in assorted black sites in America’s ongoing “War on Terror.” For the record, waterboarding is torture. Indeed, Trump-appointed CIA Director Pompeo and numerous Republicans would like to bring back not just waterboarding but other so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods.

How about the Vietnam War that resulted in ignominious defeat for America? It should be noted that the Vietnamese refer to the war as the American War. Though we remember the infamous My Lai Massacre, torture was routinely part of American policy, notably in the Phoenix Program, the failed policy that was designed to undermine Viet Cong advances. My Lai and Phoenix were only the tip of the iceberg.

Putting aside the execrable mistreatment of suspects by police and the horror of America’s prisons, we have the well-known Abu Ghraib tortures and America’s rendition of Muslim suspects to countries known to torture prisoners. Sweden, America’s poodle, participated in rendition, by the way. Despite what American apologists claim, the American government knew that torture was routinely used in those countries. That’s why suspects were delivered there.

I have barely touched on the issue in order to show that America is eyeball-deep in torture and oppression from the earliest days and, indeed, wants to return to that execrable policy. Want to get educated? I suggest you read history scholar Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” or check out America’s history of torture on the Internet.

Another source that will enlighten readers is “Beyond Homan Square: US History is Steeped in Torture” by Adam Hudson. This piece and Mr. Hudson’s article on police torture will strip away any ignorance that exists about the shameful stain that runs through American history up to the present. CLICK on the highlighted area to get the horrifying truth.

Torture is an American staple. It is said that “The truth will set you free.” If that is the case and despite the Trump administration’s effort to redefine “truth,” let’s make America live up to its motto, “The land of the free.” As in “free of torture.”

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on September 2014


  1. Torture and corporal punishment, closely related and differing only in intent, were staples of America’s past. I’m reading “The Underground Railway” by Colson Whitehead, obviously about slavery. Though the book uses an actual railroad, which didn’t exist, it’s a very revealing document about the cruelties of slavery, and it ties closely with Don’s account of torture. One of the features of the book is the punishment dealt to white people who tried to help slaves escape, including hanging and stoning. And of course the beatings given to the slaves who misbehaved in one way or another. Consider as well the treatment of First Nations people. No doubt that America brutalized anyone who stood in the way of any sort of commerce, or indeed, anything the white folks didn’t like. And we\re still at it?

      • Don Bay on April 17, 2017 at 19:17

      Torture and corporal punishment are related, but torture is far worse. The tortured person will say anything — true or false — to get the pain to stop while the subject of corporal punishment knows the punishment will stop. Like torture, s/he doesn’t know if it will start again. Both are terrible.

      As for the the First Nations or Native American people, what they faced was simply genocide. I always applauded when the banished tribespeople struck it rich on presumably barren land. Unfortunately, the tribes are getting the short end of the stick by the government even today.

      I’ve read reviews of “Underground Railroad” and found them to be uniformly glowing. Based on what I’ve read, I have recommended it to a friend who is part of a book club. I plan to read it. Thanks for the review.

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