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.