Thursday, June 23, 2011

Legislative visit


It was a hot, humid day in the former swamp, capital of the free world since 1791.  I  made a trip to our senators' offices yesterday with pastors Sandy, Linda, and Deborah to discuss the issue of torture. Friend Will Penn came along too in the guise of his book Some Fruits of Solitude.  I even quoted maxim #537 for the greater amusement of one of the staff members: "A good End cannot sanctify evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it.”
I'm still at a loss as to why it was necessary for me to play the sober Quaker in the presence of my senators' staff and to inform them that I do not approve of torture in general and US-sponsored torture in particular. I thought that Cesare Beccaria had pretty much settled the question in the 18th century.  His avid fans thought he had, at least. They complained that Beccaria's landmark work on torture and other areas of what we now call criminal justice had left nothing else for them to expound upon. Povero Cesare!  You didn't know that the State will resort the worst of human behavior rather than seem soft on its enemies.  Or maybe you knew that but, carried away by Enlightenment optimism, crossed that sentence out of your manuscript.

Anyway, the staffers made all the properly lofty statements and assured us that each of our respective senators tenaciously occupied the high moral ground. I presented postcards signed by Friends from the Philadelphia in support of NRCAT's current action, urging each senator to do all in his power to get the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee published, so that the American people can know what torture (a.k.a., enhanced interrogation methods, or, THE TOOLS needed to gather information) accomplished or did not accomplish.  (The committee convened in 2009 and expected to produce a report within a year.)

Of course, it is not really the morality of torture that is being called into question but its utility. Osama bin Laden's remains had not yet sunk to the bottom of the sea before John Yoo published a commentary crediting the Bush administration's interrogation techniques with locating Public Enemy No. 1. Never mind that former interrogator Matthew Alexander refuted this nonsense in an essay in Foreign Policy. "Most importantly," says Alexander, "we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy." Perhaps one day we'll finally do more than just talk about it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Torture awareness month

It arises from those dark recesses of our soul, stirred up by anger and nourished by the desire for vengeance. It grows and swells in direct proportion to our ability to dehumanize the Other, until our actions are out of control and our own humanity corroded.


While the Milgram Experiment in the 1960’s demonstrated that almost anyone is capable of inflicting torture, most of us prefer to leave it to the experts. We carefully avert our eyes lest we see what government agencies have done in our name. We say nothing upon learning that White House counsel disingenuously redefined torture, thus giving the green light to interrogators to carry out heinous acts. Detainees not captured in uniform are somehow exempt from Geneva Convention protections, or so goes the rationalization. After that it is but a tiny step to stripping them of their humanity. Finally, in the euphoria following the liquidation of Osama bin Laden, we even cast aside the ticking time bomb scenario, that fictitious emergency situation found only on prime-time TV dramas. The bad guys drove us to it. What further justification do we need? What a dangerous line we have crossed.

As a person of faith, I could care less whether or not torture works. Because it violates the God-given humanity of both the victim and the perpetrator, torture is always abhorrent, immoral, and wrong. I measure the depth of my integrity not by how others treat me but by how I treat others, and I hold my country to the same standard. During the month of June, Torture Awareness Month, check out the website of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture .

We must abolish US-sponsored torture forever.