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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/22/09

A Shameful Debate

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The "T"-word is on everyone's lips these days. And no, I don't mean TARP or teabagging, terrorism or taxes. I'm of course referring to torture, and to the unthinkable contention by many (primarily on the Right) that it is not only justified and defensible, but a practice that should be allowed to continue unabated in the name of "national security."

Sure, I've heard all the arguments that favor an embrace of tit-for-tat barbarity: the much-ballyhooed "ticking time bomb" scenario (paging Jack Bauer!); the as-of-yet unsubstantiated claims that "enhanced interrogation techniques" (good God, George Orwell must be proud) have yielded valuable, life-saving information; the disingenuous dance around the Geneva Conventions by categorizing certain foes as "enemy combatants" (isn't it interesting that those opponents in our alleged "war" on terror are somehow, conveniently, not considered prisoners of war?).

None of which changes one incontrovertible fact - as long as America hopes to position itself on the moral high ground, torture, in any shape or form, cannot be condoned.

I'm sickened and ashamed as an American that there is even a debate over what, precisely, constitutes torture to begin with. Is waterboarding for 10 seconds acceptable, but 20 seconds too much? Is electric shock administered to the nipples justifiable, but genital electrocution beyond the pale? Is sexual humiliation a "useful" procedure, as long as it doesn't escalate to outright rape?

Have we as a culture succumbed so completely to our animal fears that we can coldly dissect the specific details of various forms of brutality in such a way as to actually rationalize the sadistic mistreatment of any human being?

I hate to say it, kids, but if your answer is "yes" then the terrorists have already won.

Political strategist and author Robert Creamer notes today at HuffPo:
As a country, we need to emerge from this debate having placed the argument that "torture works" outside of the boundaries of acceptable political discourse once and for all.

In considering whether "torture works" the first question is: what do we mean by "works"? Torture has been used for centuries to achieve a variety of goals. It has been used to force subjects to tell what they know, to confess to crimes, to renounce their faith.

There is little question that torture gets a response from its victims. That's why its practitioners find it "useful." But that is also what makes its results completely unreliable. It isn't hard for anyone to imagine that they would say pretty much anything to make the pain stop if they believed they were drowning, or if their joints felt they would break after they had hung by their arms for hours, or if they were repeatedly slammed against the wall, or if they had been left naked and shivering for hours in the cold and periodically showered with cold water, or if they had been confined in a small box for hours with insects. All of these were methods approved by the Bush Justice Department...

(Former CIA Director) Hayden and (Bush's Attorney General) Mukasey would have us believe that only the "bad guys" were subject to torture. But of course we know that wasn't true - that hundreds of innocent people who were rounded up off the streets of Iraq were subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the contractors at Abu Ghraib. We know that many of the detainees shipped to Guantanamo were turned over to our forces by bounty hunters and were innocent of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that didn't stop some of them from being subjected to various forms of "enhanced interrogation."

The fact is that once you go down the slippery slope of tossing aside the law and allowing some people to be tortured, there is nothing to stop each and every one of us from being the subject in the chair with the light glaring down that someone in authority has decided - mistakenly or not - is a "security risk."

There is only one thing that we know about torture that works for certain: torture debases us. It doesn't just debase its victims or those who perpetrate it. It debases all of us in whose name it is conducted. It debases us to others in the world - who lose respect for our values and grow to hate our society. But just as importantly, it debases us to ourselves. It debases our self-respect and our respect for the institutions that make us civilized human beings.
In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, commenting on a case of alleged pornography, famously intoned:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."
In that same spirit, we must categorically reject any further debate over what techniques qualify as "torture." The point is moot - and the fact that there are those among us (the Cheneys, Hannitys, Becks, and Limbaughs, to name but a few) who persist in defending any level of Medieval barbarism should sicken us all.

We're supposed to be better than that, America. We're supposed to represent an enlightened way of thinking that rises above the violence and cruelty of our enemies. We're supposed to act always with honor, reason, and restraint no matter the bestial savagery of our ideological foe.

We're supposed to lead by example, not seek out unconscionable justifications for our basest instincts.

The word "torture" simply must not be a part of the American vocabulary. Period. Like Justice Stewart, I don't need any further definition of what euphemistically-named practices may be "embraced within that shorthand description." I just know it when I see it.
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After 25 years as a Post-Production Specialist in the greater New York/New Jersey area, Bob recently relocated to Orlando to continue his editorial business and begin Art Directing high-end commemorative magazines. He's been extensively involved (more...)
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