Monday, November 24, 2014

Embedded Practice

"The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reopened what many people in this country had long assumed was a settled ethical question: Is torture ever morally permissible? Within days, some people in the United States began to suggest that, in these new circumstances, the new answer was, Yes. This book argues that 9/11 did not, as some have said, "change everything." Institutionalized state torture remains as wrong today as it was on the day before those terrible attacks. Furthermore, U.S. practices during the "war on terror" find their roots in a history that began long before 9/11, a history that includes both support for torture regimes abroad and the use of torture in the jails and prisons of this country. The author argues that the most common ethical approaches to torture - utilitarianism and deontology - do not provide sufficient theoretical purchase on the problem. Both methods treat torture as a series of isolated actions that arise in moments of extremity, rather than as an ongoing, historically and socially embedded practice." 

"But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no."

"The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties."

Quotations from promotional text by Oxford University Press and from review article at Foreign Policy in Focus

Rebecca Gordon teaches in the Philosophy department of the University of San Francisco and for the university's Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good.