Sunday, March 25, 2007

Two against torture

I've been sort of holding my breath since the confessions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were made public. Despite the authorities' statement that they could make no statement regarding whether or not he had been tortured, is there really any doubt? So here it was, hidden in plain sight, silent for everyone to hear.

So I waited.

And I waited.

I waited for the public acknowledgment that torture had become the law of the land, that torture was now OK because it got results. (Only
the cartoonists have adequately expressed the lack credibility of those results.) But no public statement was forthcoming. We all went about our daily business, not bothering to admit just how low we had sunk as a nation.

This morning --finally-- I read two statements, one by Carol Wickersham, a Presbyterian pastor and friend, and another by political philosopher Slavoj Žižek. They decry the painful truth that has been weighing on my heart this past week.

Torture is now indeed the law of the land. Torture is American. Torture is patriotic.

But no, torture is not OK.

I invite you to read Carol's speech at the March 16 Witness against War rally in Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt:

Torture cannot save us from the ticking bomb, because torture is the ticking time bomb, and it has a disastrously short fuse. Look into the eyes of a child whose father has been tortured and you will see how hatred is ignited. Look into the eyes of our own soldiers who have been ordered, with a wink and a nod, to take the gloves off and to torture another human being, and you will see how quickly we can bring about our own destruction. Every time torture is committed, there are two victims, the tortured and the torturer, both perversely damaged to the core of their being. And when humans are damaged so fundamentally, it tears at the fabric of all of the communities they touch – families, churches, countries.
Entire text at

As Žižek wrote in his New York Times piece yesterday:

If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

He goes on to ask:

Are we aware what lies at the end of the road opened up by the normalization of torture? A significant detail of Mr. Mohammed’s confession gives a hint. It was reported that the interrogators submitted to waterboarding and were able to endure it for less than 15 seconds on average before being ready to confess anything and everything. Mr. Mohammed, however, gained their grudging admiration by enduring it for two and a half minutes.

Are we aware that the last time such things were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity? Do we really want to return to this kind of primitive warrior ethics?

But...but...the terrorists hate us. They have no morals. They're vicious and cold-blooded. They'll stop at nothing. A
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, who was quick to shift into torture mode after 9/11, wrote that we have to be as "nasty" as they are in this war against terror.

Know what? I don't care. I refuse to approve the use of torture. I call upon our government to stop.
No to torture!

1 comment:

  1. I was listening to a discussion about the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 (well, the legislation that was brought in then) on the radio this morning, and they posed the question "what do you think we will find abhorrent in 200 years from now?"
    My first thought was torture. I find it hard to accept that in the 21st century our "civilised" nations still use it. It is wrong. I really hope it doesn't take 200 years for our governments to stop using it.

    - thank you so much for the lovely card, it was a huge surprise and made me smile x


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