Torture

The Senate report on CIA torture has been a part of the nation’s conversation. I expected people to take the position that the acts complained of in the report took place soon after 9/11 and were brought on by fear. I expected people to take the position that these acts of torture would never take place to prisoners in American custody by Americans again. I expected people to claim that this was after a terrorist attack, and as such was an unusual circumstance, unlikely to reoccur.

Yet, my expectations were wrong. Shockingly I have heard two arguments both made by former vice president Dick Cheney but repeated by others. Both arguments are morally reprehensible. The first was that these acts did not amount to torture. This is truly a bizarre statement. Anally inserting food, water boarding, forcing people to remain in a coffin size box or in one position for hours or days at time can only be described as torture.

The Humane Society has fought against such inhuman tortures for years. They have stood against force feeding geese to fatten up their livers. They have stood against gestation pens for pigs and battery cages for chickens. Animals should have enough space to turn around. My position is that any conditions the Humane Society considers too inhumane for animals if applied to a humans is torture. I guess I am a radical.

The argument that this is not torture is simply ridiculous. The argument that they didn’t know at the time it was torture is equally without merit. There was a reason this torture was done outside of the United States and in secret. There is a reason the Commander and Chief was not fully informed about what was happening. That reason is that CIA Officials knew it was torture.

The real issue is when if ever is torture acceptable. I understand that people act out of fear with presumably good motives. Placing Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II was morally wrong but I presume the motivation of the government was not evil. They acted out of fear and to the detriment of the nation but not for the purpose of being evil. I could make a similar statement about Joseph R. McCarthy and the red scare of the 1950’s. I believe the CIA acted with the desire to save lives. Their actions not their motivation was bad.

If you have seen enough action movies you might ask, “If your child was being held in a giant fish tank, with one hour’s worth of air, and you had the perpetrator in front of you wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get the information to free your child?”. The answer to this silly question is, of course. The question is silly for a number of reasons. Number one, as an individual of course I would do anything to save my child. Yet, there is a difference between the actions of an individual and that of the government.  Number two, the question presupposes that I know this is the perpetrator, the CIA had no such knowledge admitting that some of the people subject to this treatment were innocent. Number three the question describes an urgent and immediate necessity not a circumstance where people are held for years. Finally there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of anyone who supports torture. Torture does not work. When subjected to torture people will say what the interrogator wants them to say not the truth.

The United State’s is a civilized country. We don’t target civilians and we don’t cut innocent people’s throats and video record it. Like all civilized countries confessions based on torture are not admissible in court. Such actions would violate the rights of due process guaranteed in the United State’s Constitution. The Geneva Conventions signed by the United States tried to end the use of torture of prisoners of war that we saw in WWII. We know as individuals not just as a nation that  torture is wrong.

Torture not only harms the victims of the torture but the perpetrators. How can a person torture another without loosing a part of their humanity. Often in abuse and neglect cases children are taken away from both parents because they witness violence between their parents. Even though that violence does not extend to the children. Children who observe such violence grow up to be victims or abusers. Witnessing abuse is damaging by itself. Participating in violence is worse. You can’t torture a person without thinking of them as less than human. Once a person believes that others are less than human than they are surrendering their own humanity.

How do you get people willing to blow up the Twin Towers, a bus or a restaurant? How did Hitler get people to murder millions of innocent men, woman and children? You convince people that the victims are less than human. You work to dehumanize people through education, propaganda and hate. You support acts of torture because the people we are harming aren’t worthy of the basic dignity provided to the animals we intend to eat.

How does this type of behavior reflect on the United States? I am not talking about our reputation before the United Nations. The U.N. is an organization that has shown itself to be of little value. I am talking about our reputation with individual nations. We need moral standing when we come into a country and try to help them form a democracy. We need moral standing to act as peace keepers and policeman. We need to lead through example.

I am not so naive as to believe any example we set will have any influence on terrorists. Yet, it might have an impact on nations that allow terrorists within their borders. It might encourage other nations to take their own stand for what is right. It might convince them to join us in coalitions to spread and encourage justice.

This is not an issue that demands debate. It is common sense. There is a simple and obvious line that divides right and wrong. I am also not trying to convince people that my argument is the right one. I have no magic wand that will change a person’s fundamental nature. I am writing this simply to vent and to show my disappointment that there are intelligent people willing to sacrifice their humanity for little or no benefit.

Coal in our stockings and hate in our hearts, is no way to go through the Holidays.

‘Tis the season to find reasons to look for differences between people. We are clearly and significantly divided as a nation. This is evidenced by the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York. We are not just divided by race but by sex, religion and class. We look for reasons and excuses to hate one another.

One reason maybe to protect our psyche. If people were of equal value how could we justify allowing so many people to be poor. How could we justify spending ten bucks for a movie when a child doesn’t have enough to eat.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater talks about DNA and genetics. There are few differences between us. We share 50% of our genetic make-up with a banana. We share well in excess of 90% of our genes with a chimpanzee and well over 99% with each other. At a cellular level we are not that different.

We look for differences between us. We intentionally seek evidence to support the position that we are special. Is the color of our skin significant? What about religion? Christianity incorporates Judaism.  Islam incorporates Jesus and Moses within the construct of their religion. Is it all that different? Are we special because of who our parents are or what country we live in.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be special. In fact we are all individuals and we are all special. It is alright  to celebrate individuality and acknowledge differences between us. Yet, not at the expense of others. Being special does not make someone else less special.

It is alright to hate an individual. If a person is awful no matter the season feel free to hate them. It is not alright to extrapolate based on an individual’s behavior hatred of a group. Perhaps the need to judge a person quickly is instinctual. Our ancestors would need to determine if a person or animal was dangerous in a split second. When safety and life and death are on the line you didn’t have the luxury of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the times have changed. We are no longer cavemen living in groups and tribes.Today we can take the time to get to know one another.

So this holiday season why not aim for peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. Let’s put our differences aside. After all we are a lot more alike than different. Also, a book by Scott A. Lerner makes a great holiday gift.