The Talisman of Torture | Harper's Magazine

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The Talisman of Torture


About two years ago, I was asked to give an address concerning the organized bar’s engagement on the torture issue before a gathering of bar association presidents from throughout the Western hemisphere. When it was over, a former president of the Argentine bar came up to me. “You must fight this with every ounce of energy you possess,” he said. “Because in the end, you will find that this torture is not about intelligence gathering, or ticking bombs or any other such nonsense. It is a talisman. A talisman of power. A government that can torture and do it with impunity can do anything. No law stands in its way. The very idea of the rule of law crumbles into dust. It means brutal tyranny.” At the time, I thought this was a bit crazy, but I knew what the Argentines had gone through and I respected the comment. As time progresses, I see exactly what he meant. Indeed, the experience of the bar in Argentina and Chile from the seventies and early eighties is perfectly on point for America today. First they introduced torture. And getting away with it, they have begun systematically to defy the notion that they are subject to the rule of law. We see this every day in dark figures like Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and Dick Cheney. Torture, as my Argentine friend said, is but a talisman.

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