“Torture is about power. It is not about gathering intelligence. It is not about preventing terrorist attacks. Torture is terror itself.”
“Our aim is to put you in hell so you will tell the truth. These are the orders we have from our superiors, to turn your lives into hell.”
— US soldier to Abu Ghraib detainee 
Coming out of the woodwork … as if from the woodcut of waterboarding in the Spanish Inquisition, stepping out, into our lives, assuming three dimensional features, taking on flesh tones, inhaling and exhaling… figures who declare with serious faces that … torture …. works.
They tell us:
We will extract confessions from you.
We know that you know what we want.
We will tell you what we know about you and your co-conspirators and what we know that you know.
We will tell you again and again and again and again until you tell us what we have told you so that we may know the truth. 
We will pour jugs of water onto your face till you choke and struggle against your binds, to purify you.
We will tell you that if you don’t talk that you will surely die.
We will put you in coffin-sized boxes for hours.
We will throw you against the walls. Repeatedly.
We will strip you naked and sic dogs upon you.
We will deny you sleep for days upon days.
We will tell you that we will not ever stop until you have made your peace with us and confess freely and fully.
We will slap you and beat you until you tell us what we want.
We are, you must know, a merciful people, a kind people, a just, and a moral people.
There are no more merciful, more kind, more just, more moral people than us.
We are so just and moral that we can do these things to you and not be sullied by it.
We remain moral and righteous as we beat you because our intentions are so pure. 
We are protecting Americans’ lives and if we have to suffocate you or beat you to death, we do so in the name of the American people, whose lives are more precious than your pitiful lying life.
Our morality and justice is so great – Lord Be Praised – that you envy us this righteous life that we live, which is why you hate us so.
But we are stronger and mightier than you.
For we have God on our side.
And you, you have nothing but superstition.
We spit on your Quran.
We are God’s soldiers. 
We will put your heads on sticks and rock your world. 
We will demonstrate the superiority of our All Mighty compared to your pitiful heathen beliefs.
We shall turn your life into a living hell.
We shall teach you a lesson that you will not forget, nor your family, nor your neighbors, nor your mosque, nor your countrymen.
In the Middle East, in Asia, in the world as a whole, we are the One.
For you have no power. We have it all.
Torture is about power. It is not about gathering intelligence. It is not about preventing terrorist attacks. Torture is terror itself. Torture personifies the very meaning of terror. Torture is terrorism distilled down and applied repeatedly to a single individual.
It is designed precisely for this purpose: to terrorize a population.
Torture is employed so that everyone in a population will worry that they could very well be the next victim.
That is why torturing innocents is part of torture’s purpose: so that the populace will come to believe that there is nothing that they can do that could prevent their being tortured, that who gets selected to be tortured is completely arbitrary and capricious, so that the population will not dare to resist, so that they will live in constant fear.
The “Ticking Time Bomb”
This is the rationale of today’s Torquemadas: we are saving American lives and we must do it or else. It is also a favorite of shows like 24 whose purpose is to dignify torture and to justify it in an entertainment format.
But the ticking time bomb scenario is simply fiction. Here is why:
If you capture a suspect and are convinced that he or she knows something about an immediately pending terrorist attack, what terrorist cell, as soon as one of theirs is out of contact for an extended period – remember this is supposed to be just a day or less to the bomb going off, so this group will be very careful about staying in touch and having signals that none of them has been picked up – wouldn’t immediately cancel their plans?
Furthermore, if you suspect that this person’s a terrorist, or even know for a fact that this person’s a terrorist, you then have a choice: do you torture this person and thereby ruin any chances of obtaining their cooperation in the future and gain through torture of them information that you don’t know is truthful because you’ve tortured them to get it, and also, by torturing them, destroy any chances of convicting this person for any crimes, thereby putting this person and yourself in legal limbo? Or do you try to use methods that will get you reliable information?
What I have just said is no doubt obvious to the government itself. They won’t say it, but you can see how obvious this is, as long as you’re not blinded by fear or by xenophobia.
So why, then, use torture?
The answer is because torture’s purpose isn’t intel. Torture’s purpose is terror.
This is why the Bush White House used it. To terrorize whole populations, including Americans who might find torture unacceptable. To get their way.
Why is the Obama administration refusing to prosecute those who have admitted using measures that Obama and Holder have called torture? Why is Obama retaining rendition and indefinite detentions, expanding Bagram and denying the detainees at Bagram (and Gitmo so far) a right to challenge their detention? Why is this man who ran on a platform of hope and change reserving the right to employ measures beyond the already too loophole-ridden Army Field Manual in interrogations?
Over the last thirty years, the New Deal/Keynesian Welfare State has been systematically dismantled by the neoliberal state. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are neoliberals, for neoliberalism is the political expression of globalization.
In the neoliberal world, privatization increasingly takes the place of social programs. Deindustrialization, downsizing, speedups and take-aways are the new standard practices. Public goods are increasingly displaced by private interests and by profit-making opportunities. Insecurity of job and livelihood are the norm rather than the exception. Volatility of income becomes more and more common for most people. Positive incentives for normative behavior (jobs and decent pay, etc.) are increasingly shredded, and inequality is more and more acute both within nations and between nations and regions.
In this neoliberal world, for all of these reasons, the government has no choice but to rely more and more heavily upon coercion to ensure co-operation and to forestall disruption and upheaval because the rewards for going along with the status quo are day by day being undercut for the vast majority of the world’s people.
Coercion itself must be used more, but even coercion doesn’t work in all instances and sheer terror must be employed.
This is the underlying reason why Obama is doing what he is doing and why he is proving to be such a shocking disappointment to those who expected something very different from this charismatic and articulate black man.
1. From Andy Worthington, ‘Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed tells his story’.
2. “Understandably unable to resist the effects of the torture, Binyam proceeded to confess to whatever wild theories were put to him by his torturers. ‘They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,’ he said. ‘I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.’ As Rose noted, ‘This – supposedly the brainchild of the 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – always sounded improbable: it was never quite clear how gas pipes might become weapons.’
“Binyam added, ‘I said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had given me a false passport after I was stopped the first time in Karachi and that I had met Osama bin Laden 30 times. None of it was true. The British could have stopped the torture because they knew I had tried to use the same passport at Karachi both times. That should have told them that what I was saying under torture wasn’t true. But so far as I know, they did nothing.’”
From Worthington, ‘Seven Years of Torture’.
3. “Obama credited not Mr. Bush but the former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael V. Hayden and the former director of national intelligence Mike McConnell, who ‘really had America’s security interests in mind when they acted, and I think were mindful of American values and ideals.’” (From Helene Cooper and Stolberg Gay Stolberg, ‘Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of Taliban’, New York Times, March 7, 2009.
4. “‘You are the sovereign. Your name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb,’ a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them.” The scene was reported by Agence France-Presse on Nov. 6, 2004″ (From Mark Crispin Miller, ‘Bush and Cheney’s War on the Enlightenment’, in Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips (eds.), Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006) 193.
And, “At Fallujah, the Marines used napalm and white phosphorous – weapons banned by international law – to immolate the people living there, and saw that it was good; for in King David they thought they could see themselves, Agence France-Presse observed: “‘The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world.’” Miller, ‘Bush and Cheney’s War’, 194.
5. “With regret,” the Russian official said, “I have to say that you are going to get the hell kicked out of you [in Afghanistan].” One of the Americans responded… “We’re going to kill them,” the U.S. official asserted. “We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.” From Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), 103.
Dennis Loo is the recipient of national awards for scholarship, journalism, and activism. He is Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona and the author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society and co-author/editor of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney. He serves on the National Steering Committee of the World Can't Wait and writes regularly for online sites including DennisLoo.com.