It Usually Begins with the Drug War - There's a lot of good stuff over at Unqualified Offerings today, so go read it. Among other things I found a reference to this post by Jonathan Edelstein, where he traces the use of torture to the War on (some) Drugs. No surprise there, but well worth reading.
There is a subgenre of Federal case law, beginning in the 1970s, involving the claims of alleged drug traffickers who were tortured by Latin American police, often with American law enforcement agents in the room.

One of the first such cases was that of Francisco Toscanino, an Italian citizen living in Uruguay who was wanted by American authorities on drug charges. On January 6, 1973, Toscanino was lured out of his home by means of a telephone call, ambushed in a Montevideo alley, brought to the Brazilian border in the trunk of a car and turned over to Brazilian authorities [and tortured ... full description elided]...

Similar treatment was meted out to Rafael Lira, who was tortured by Chilean police in 1974 after being arrested on the request of the United States; Raul Perez Degollado, shocked with cattle prods by Mexican authorities in the presence of DEA agents; and Juan Ramon Matta-Ballesteros, who was arrested in Honduras in the mid-1980s and "beaten and burned with a stun gun at the direction of the United States Marshals." In the Degollado case, DEA agents actually admitted to being in the room while the Mexican police began to torture their captive...
Edelstein sees close parallels between the war on the drug trade and the war on terrorism; I think they are different, but certainly close in certain respects. Namely, as I said before: the fact that the US is resorting to torture is, in both cases, a warning that we have screwed up elsewhere.

Where they are different is that the screwup in the case of drugs is direct, and obvious. The drug war itself is both stupid and wrong. Drug taking hurts nobody but possibly the taker; it should be legal. Drug selling (and buying) hurts nobody and should be legal. All victimless "crimes" cannot easily be policed since there is nobody complaining excepting third parties. So to get information on the "crime" you end up destroying privacy, and you end up torturing.

Terrorism is different than the drug business: any act which would count as terrorism is a real crime, with real victims. It should not be legal. What is similar, though, is the fact that the US is doing things it should not be. In the case of Al Qaeda, we are (a) warring against Iraqi civilians, unrepentantly killing some thousands of them (mostly kids) each year with our "sanctions". ("It's worth it!") That's wrong. We are (b) supporting many oppressive regimes that Al Qaeda hates (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). We should stop that. And we are (c) oppressing our taxpayers to pay for a bloated military, which is naturally finding a mission for itself, in places that include places Al Qaeda doesn't like.

In the case of terrorism, the screwup is not fighting terrorism as such. It is doing bad things which are leading militant Islamicists to target us. We should stop doing these things, not because of what the terrorists think, but because the things themselves are wrong.

We should know better, and should have known better. But obviously we don't; and so the terrorists have attacked us, and so the state security apparatus counters them (generally good), including the use of torture (bad). That's a wakeup call to good people in the US. Or, it should be. Americans are quite capable of compartmentalizing; we already oppress foreigners and nobody cares. Somehow I doubt foreign torture is going to change many minds; still, the warning is there, and as in the case of Mr. Edelstein it can change the minds of those willing to see.

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