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The Politics of Cruelty

Our Enlightenment Legacy On the Ropes

To be honest, when I first read McCoy’s book I had trouble with this idea. Even if an interrogator/torturer isn’t literally pulling out fingernails and is, instead, sitting in a corner reading a magazine while forcing someone to stand naked on one foot for four hours in 50 degree air-conditioning, the torturer is still forcing the person to stand in the uncomfortable posture against his or her will. My skepticism, I’ve concluded, has more to do with my naiveté, having never been tortured. My reference point is, thus, the relatively mild idea behind the rigors of military basic training, something I went through as an 18-year-old. The idea often expressed was that basic training was breaking a young recruit down in order to, then, build him up in a certain mold. Intensify that mental activity into the context of someone held against his or her will under the severe and relentless pressure of a “systematic attack on all human senses” and it becomes understandable. One can empathetically appreciate how the human mind under stress can easily slip from the realms of comfort and reasonableness into an irrational, existential process of survival. I recall reading an account of torture in Argentina during its dirty war that emphasized the relationship of torturer and tortured; at one point, the torturer showed his victim pictures of his kids. The point was, a human being can become very desperate for even a miniscule sign of humanity -- even if it’s from one’s own torturer. The same kind of perverse desperation, no doubt, contributes to the faulty logic that a torture victim can attribute the pain he or she is undergoing as “self-inflicted.”

As we know, ICE agents have been enthusiastically rounding up and arresting families who have crossed the border into the United States illegally. Much of it is done under the radar, in secret, which is the standard mode of most government operations. Thus, much of the current story is still unclear. What does seem clear is that, once arrested, the law permitted the US government to immediately deport adults. Supposedly to protect minors from abuse, the law prohibits the immediate deportation of children. This presented a dilemma. Selectively following the letter of the law on deportations and employing the politics of cruelty, Trump selectively enforced laws that said they could deport parents and, because their kids were legally un-deportable, essentially kidnapped the kids (some 2,300 of them) and put them in detention. Now we’re hearing stories of 3-year-olds as defendants in hearings without representation by a lawyer. Meanwhile, the legal rule that demands an asylum-seeker be given a “credible fear interview” and be allowed to apply for asylum is selectively ignored.

The Trump officials responsible for these action understood they would be embarrassing and even dishonorable. That didn’t stop them; the politics of cruelty trumped their better angels. The point seems to be to throw a monkey wrench into a process, thereby making a mess of it -- then to say there’s nothing we can do about it; it’s a done deal. In this spirit, in a nation that can forensically find a needle in a haystack if it needs to, they claim they are unable to re-unite many of the broken up families. How hard they’re really trying is impossible to grasp, thanks to the regime of secrecy.

story | by Dr. Radut