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Our Moral Burden After the Torture Revelations

By       Message Siegfried Othmer       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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From Torture - America's Shame
Torture - America's Shame
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I came to this country in 1951 as an eleven-year-old, arriving at Idyllwild airport on Christmas Eve. I met my American father, whom I had never seen. I had arrived in the promised land of television, of skyscrapers, and of wide-open spaces. However, my foreignness was impossible to hide. I was German at a time when war movies were still plentiful. I was an emissary from the nation that was seen as categorically evil. Germans bore collective responsibility for the war and everything it brought with it. There were no innocents, not even those who were less than five, as I had been, when the war was brought to a close. Germany had waged aggressive war, and then there was the bombing of London and the Holocaust. There was persistent talk of the German violence gene.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly absorbed and accepted the judgment of collective guilt that my new country had imposed. It was a natural corollary to the doctrine of original sin. Everyone is a sinner, and everyone is guilty. Collective guilt imposed the obligation of restorative justice on everyone involved, which I was eager to accept.

And now that same principle demands that I must also accept responsibility for the torture that was committed in our name. I feel this keenly, by virtue of my personal history, but I also realize that the rest of the world looks at it similarly: America tortures people, and it is trying to make it ok. We face a choice: Either the individuals involved are brought to justice or we accept that the responsibility is diffused among us all. Responsibility is either individual or collective, or both. The failure to seek justice will be rightly seen by others as acceptance of what was done. This will hang around our necks forever, and rightly so.

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What is transpiring now on the public stage is a disgusting orgy of rationalization and self-justification. Torture will not yield to utilitarian arguments. It is recognized as a categorical violation of the basic humanity that the powerful owe to those in their custody. The discussion of whether torture 'worked' serves only to submerge the moral issue. Even worse is the spectacle of arguing whether we are even talking about torture at all. We never had any doubts at all on that score when it was perpetrated by others.

Moreover, the re-working of the word torture diverts from the real issue. After all, the torture convention has surrounded the word with sentinels. It is also a violation of the convention to subject people to "inhumane and degrading treatment." And there can be no argument at all that we are in violation of that principle. So we can find no refuge at all in re-defining the word torture.

How fortunate it was that Germany experienced the Nuremberg trials. That was the beginning of a necessary separation of the future Germany from its past. The process had to begin with the assignment of individual responsibility for specific acts. Importantly, the defense of following orders was not deemed legitimate. All that has become inoperative. Our recent history has reduced the Nuremberg trials to mere victor's justice. We have just disowned every principle of International law that was asserted there. We have ignored the UN Charter, and we have absented ourselves from the International Criminal Court.

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How do we now climb down from this, after closing off all the avenues both nationally and internationally that could provide a legal framework for the restitution of the rule of law?


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Siegfried Othmer is a physicist who over the last 33 years has been engaged with neurofeedback as a technique for the rehabilitation and enhancement of brain function. He is Chief Scientist at the EEG Institute in Los Angeles. Coming to (more...)

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