Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Everything you always wanted to know about torture as practiced by our country but were ashamed to ask

My son was devouring his burger and fries with obvious pleasure. My husband was eating a much healthier salad topped with tunafish. He had opted to buy dinner for himself and our son, the only two who were eating dinner at home tonight.

Son: "How come you're not eating?"


Me: "Because I have to leave right away. I'm going to an anti-torture discussion."


Son (teasing me): "You hippie!"

Me (teasing him back): "Yeah, I'm just an old hippie.

The irony is that when I was a teenager in the hippie era, I didn't have the courage to do what I'm doing now.

We met in a lovely little church, modestly tucked into the middle of a block of houses. In each pew were several copies of the African American Heritage Hymnal. Three speakers and a moderator (a professor of Middle Eastern history, 2 attendees of the QUIT conference, and our local Amnesty International coordinator) were seated in front of the sanctuary ready to educate a mere handful of interested persons on our government's use of tortu
re.

Some of the things I learned:
  1. Although torture had been shown since the Enlightenment period to be ineffectual as well as inhumane...
  2. The impression of pain, then, may increase to such a degree that, occupying the mind entirely, it will compel the sufferer to use the shortest method of freeing himself from torment....He will accuse himself of crimes of which he is innocent so that the very means employed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty will most effectually destroy all difference between them. Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments, 1764
    ...the CIA has devoted time and money to discovering effective techniques. Approval of the use of torture against "enemy combattants" has slipped into current national policy, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
    The nature of the new war places a high premium on...the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions . . .

    White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, Memorandum for the President, January 25, 2002.
    See also the article Torture in Our Time by Lawrence Davidson, professor of history at a local university.
    A pervasive climate of fear, ably propagated by our government officials and certain media personalities, has had the effect of numbing American citizens to the indefensibility of the use of torture.

  3. Many Guantanamo Bay captives were not captured while in combat. Many were innocent individuals denounced to American authorities by persons who wanted to collect the bounty being offered for finding and handing over terrorists. See the interview with two Afghan brothers, publishers of a satirical magazine, who ticked off the local mullahs and warlords and ended up in the hands of US authorities first in Khandahar and eventually at Guantanamo:
    As best as we can tell, Badr Zaman Badr and his brother were imprisoned in Guantanamo for three years for telling a joke....They ran a satire magazine in Pakistan that poked fun at corrupt clerics. Sort of the Pashtu edition of “The Onion.” The first joke that got them into trouble was when they published a poem about a politician called “I Am Glad to be a Leader.”...So, the guy with the big stomach [the object of the satirical piece] called up Badr and his brother. He threatened them, and, as best as they can tell, told authorities that they were linked to Al Qaeda, which landed them in Guantanamo... From "Habeas Shmabeas," This American Life, NPR.
  4. The brothers were lucky. They were university educated and spoke perfect English, which helped their lawyer considerably in eventually getting them released. There was no formal admission on the part of the authorities, however, that the brothers had been arrested erroneously.

  5. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has begun placing an anti-torture ad in major national newspapers beginning today. The signitaries of the ad are prominent members of various religious denominations, as well as President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel. The ad says:
    Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?
    Let America abolish torture now – without exceptions.
I'm going to look for the ad ... and tell others about it.
I would never have thought that things would come to this in the country I love.

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