The phrase "nobody was was seriously damaged" has defined American torture over the past 120 years or so. It's not that Americans don't torture--it's that we as a nation try not to leave a mark when we do, because then we don't technically run afoul of U.S. laws restricting the treatment of prisoners. And when our government does leave a mark, it tries to do so in a way that minimizes its own culpability. Extraordinary rendition, pioneered by the Clinton administration, involves sending prisoners off to places with decidedly less rigorous anti-torture standards...and then benefitting from whatever interrogation takes place there. We don't know how the information is obtained. We don't want to know.
And when our own officials torture prisoners and do leave a mark, or blood, or corpses--as has happened at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, to name one of many examples--then it's best that they do so in a way that allows them to be dismissed as "a few bad apples," certainly not representative of official policy. Because Americans, after all, don't torture.
So that's the gist of it, really. If you're an American president who wants to torture prisoners, there are only two rules you must follow:
- Don't leave a mark.
- If you do leave a mark, blame it on somebody else.
Except for the poor soul strapped to the waterboard, of course.