Glenn Greenwald sent me to a CNN article from 1 July 2008, Mandela Off U.S. Terrorism Watch List. The first sentence of the article reads, “Former South African President Nelson Mandela is to be removed from a U.S. terrorism watch list under a bill President Bush signed Tuesday.” You’ve got that right: Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the United States until the middle of 2008.
The point here is that when we say “terrorist” in the United States, we don’t necessarily mean anything other than, “someone we don’t like.” In the case of Nelson Mandela, the problem was most likely American corporate interests in South Africa who didn’t like his political work. And that’s very important when we claim that torture is acceptable to fight “terrorism.” We tend to expand the definition of that word to whatever we find useful.
In the end, I truly believe that the use of torture says a great deal about the torturer and very little about the tortured. And when our definition of a terrorist can include Nelson Mandela for almost 7 years of the “war on terror” (when he was in his 80s), it means the United States government is willing to torture anyone.