Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to close the Office of Global Criminal Justice, a state department agency that dealt with war crimes. I have read and heard various reactions to this move, like the one below, by people criticizing the decision.
“I think this is a very unfortunate step because what it says to the world is the US does not make war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, torture a priority anymore,” said Allan Ryan, who was the director of the Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s. It was a similar office — the first of its kind in the US — at the Department of Justice, set up to prosecute former Nazis.
One thing struck me. All the commentators noted that this office was supposed, among other things, to deal with torture and closing it meant that the US was signaling that it did not care that much about it. But none of them even mentioned the fact that during the Bush-Cheney regime torture practices were routinely used. After all, no one even disputes that the ghastly things that were done in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other so-called black sites, was torture. What was this office doing then? Why did this office not investigate torture practices so close to home?
Oh, I forgot. Torture and war crimes are things that only designated enemies of the US commit. What the US and friendly regimes do is, by definition, not torture. Nothing to see here, folks, so just move along.
It was telling that none of the people interviewing these commentators even asked about this blatant contradiction, a telling sign of the self-censorship that the US media operates under. What is worse is that this may not even signal conscious self-censorship. This kind of question simply does not even strike the reporters, a telling example of the way that the media filters weed out reporters who do not have the ‘right thoughts’, a process well-described by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their classic work Manufacturing Consent.