The Implications of Legal Torture

By John L. Elwell

With Donald Trump’s repeated attempts at executive orders to halt the Refugee Resettlement Program and to halt immigration from certain majority Muslim nations, the focus of many (and rightly so) has been centered on that front. Daily news images of refugees, their families, and the protests which took place at what seems like every major airport have shown this new administration that the opposition is real and that it is strong. But with all the attention focused on those executive orders, a secondary piece of news has largely been able to pass by without much attention from the media; and that is our new president’s feelings about torture. President Trump’s views on the subject, in combination with the similar views held by Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch, should be of extraordinary concern to us all.

When I was a senior in college, my roommates and I had a fairly large cardboard sign that covered the entire front window of our apartment. On this sign, in giant black Sharpie block letters, were written the words “Torture Creates Terrorists.” It was a heady decision for a group of young, privileged, white males who considered themselves, if not yet radicals or even progressives, at the very least solid liberals. It was 2009, Barack Obama had just become president, and we patiently awaited the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and the passage of healthcare reform. After eight years of a second Bush presidency, some of us considered this the dawn of a new liberal U.S. and we, as naïve college students, wanted to brand ourselves as part of that new U.S.

Now, President of the U. S. Donald Trump is seemingly trying to take us in a completely different direction, backtracking from even the modest gains made during the Obama presidency. Among a reactionary flurry of executive orders, President Trump made time in his interview with ABC News on January 25th to say that the U. S. must “fight fire with fire” and that using torture techniques like waterboarding “absolutely works.” Fast forward a few months and we have heard similar ideas ascribed to the ideology of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who in a 2005 memo prepared for Bush-era Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez answered in the affirmative to the question about whether “aggressive interrogation techniques employed by the administration yielded any valuable information.”

Now what does this mean for us as socialists and as Americans? The Leader of the Free World, as well as the potential deciding vote on the Supreme Court, has stated without embarrassment that we, as a military and as a nation, will have to resort to the same terroristic methods that we all, both Right and Left, have decried during the years since the advent of the so-called “War on Terror.” In 2003, we shamed ourselves with the human rights violations of Abu Ghraib prisoners in Iraq, and to this day we shame ourselves with the stories of what happens to detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And these horrific situations occurred even without a president who was vocally in support of torture methods. If you combine what we already know is happening with a more than encouraging voice in the White House the results are nearly unimaginable.

Since my senior year in college I have matured only slightly and my naiveté still persists, but I do wholeheartedly believe that what we do today and in the near future both as individuals and as a nation will have an effect, whether it be positive or negative, and we will be able to point back and remember that this was the cause. The bombs we drop today create the suicide bombers of tomorrow. The refugees we turn away today become the fatal victims of governments and terrorist groups tomorrow. And those we torture, both the innocent and the guilty, become the terrorists of tomorrow.

Right now, the eyes of the world are pointed in the direction of the U.S. They are looking at us in fear and possibly hatred. Let us give them something to see that they did not expect. As socialists, we must unite with all groups opposed to the Trump doctrine and present an opposition that a sitting president has never seen before. DSA and YDS, now more than ever, can become that unifying organization that works with others to oppose the refugee ban and the Muslim ban, and stands shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT community and with minority communities. We must always oppose torture, no matter if it works or if those we oppose are practicing it. It’s time to stand up, it’s time to be heard, and it’s time to resist.

John L. Elwell is a member and former founding Co-Chair of DSA North Texas.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link:

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 77 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

July 06, 2017
· 17 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz,
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt,, 608-355-6568.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

July 09, 2017
· 2 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

Running for the National Political Committee

July 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join this call to hear a presentation and ask questions about the role, duties and time commitment of a member of DSA's National Political Committee. In the meantime, check out the information already on our website about the NPC.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 11 rsvps


Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.