At the AALS last week, I heard a (formerly) respected law professor announce to a room that he had looked carefully and he didn't see any evidence of systematic torture by the US. It was — although he didn't use these words — the 'few bad apples' all over again. At least a few of us in the packed room expressed our shock audibly — which isn't something you usually get at such a polite, even staid, event.
There's clearly a lot of this denial going around, which is why Marty Lederman's latest item demolishing the “best defense of the administration’s record on torture” is well worth reading.
In her article, MacDonald agrees that the 2002 OLC Memo was “hair-raising,” and “understandably caused widespread alarm.” She argues, however, that the OLC Memo “had nothing to do” with the interrogation “debates and experiments unfolding among Pentagon interrogators in Afghanistan and Cuba,” and had no connection to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or to the extreme methods of military interrogation that have been alleged at Guantanamo and elsewhere. MacDonald further argues that, in contrast to the CIA, Pentagon officials have not come close to violating the law; that the military’s techniques have been “light years from real torture”; that the interrogation policies in Cuba and Afghanistan are “irrelevant” to what happened in Abu Ghraib; and that, in fact, the Armed Forces have been unduly hamstrung by a culture of legalism that is an unfortunate byproduct of “fanatically cautious” Pentagon lawyers steeped in the outmoded ways of the Geneva Conventions.
This version of the story appears to be selective, at best.
There's clearly much here that's not fully in the open, notably the extent to which the Torture Memos were driven by a need to attempt to justify CIA abuses which had already happened.
But given the number of reports we do have of overly coercive questioning to say the least, no one should be allowed to claim that there wasn't some sort of pattern and practice at work, creeping its way from the CIA to other interrogation centers, destroying whatever moral authority the US might hope to claim, inflaming the locals against us, and creating a new cadre of detainees (and families) who will hate us and try to destroy us.
Whether it also will make a mockery of the concepts such as the rule of law that we try to teach our students still remains to be seen.