The Wrongness of Torture

September 24, 2006 at 4:37 am | Posted in American politics, King George, Republicans, Torture, War on Terror | Leave a comment

Aldous Huxley said the following:

“The people who make wars, the people who reduce their fellows to slavery, the people who kill and torture and tell lies in the name of their sacred causes, the really evil people in a word – these are never the publicans [barkeeps] and the sinners. No, they’re the virtuous, respectable men, who have the finest feelings, the best brains, the noblest ideals.”

I keep pressing this issue because America needs to decide now, before the November elections if it truly wants to become the first democratic, civilized, western nation to institutionalize and legalize torture.

The Washington Post has two op-eds in Sunday’s paper from people who have either experienced torture, much like Mr. Bukovsky, who I quoted earlier.

The first one is called Are We So Fearful? and is written by someone who lived in Chile in 1973 during Pinochet’s military coup to remove a democratically elected government out of power. This military coup, by the way, was backed by America. I remind all what Kissinger said back then:

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

In any case, in the first op-ed, Ariel Dorfman shares an experience he had watching an Argentine who was tortured.

It still haunts me, the first time — it was in Chile, in October of 1973 — that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.

That is what stays with me — that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.

Of course, Americans won’t be seeing the effects of torture on any individual. Bush has ensured that all who will be tortured will never ever see the light of day again. You think KSM will ever be free again? It would have been better for America to have simply ended his life. Remove him from this planet. Let him meet his Maker and realize his sins. No, we won’t be seeing these effects, because these men, and probably women too, will never be allowed back into society. This is actually probably worse than what the Soviets did back during the 30s. The Soviets at least released their detainees back into society. Do you think Bush will ever allow these guys free? Not a chance! So what happens to them? We torture them. Then what? We don’t know. It is all a big secret.

How can you trust that it is either good or bad if it is a secret?

I find these arguments — and there are many more — to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can’t the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the “intelligence” that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

Finally, Edwidge Danticat, who is from Haiti writes an op-ed called Does It Work?

A few years ago, as I worked on a documentary film about torture survivors in exile from my native Haiti, I met a young woman who under questioning by a military officer was slapped until she became deaf in one ear, was forced to chew and swallow a campaign poster, and was kicked so hard in the stomach by booted feet that she kept slipping in and out of consciousness in a pool of her own urine and blood. Another woman had an arm chopped off and her tongue sliced in two before she was dumped in a mass grave, miles from her home.

When I met these women, some time had passed since their ordeals. But they could still feel the hammering of the blows and hear the menacing voices, threatening to drown them, dismember them and set them on fire. The younger woman, Marie Carmel, remembers thinking about her mother. Manman will surely die if I’m killed, she thought. I have to stay alive for her. Alerte, whose arm and tongue were severed, kept thinking about her children as she climbed out of the corpse-filled pit and crawled to the side of the road where she found help. Both had no idea how much pain they could endure until then. They wanted to live, they remembered, to defy their torturers, to tell their stories.

I am still befuddled that Republicans, and worse, Christians, back this…..do they not see the negative consequences? Well, let’s continue this.

When I first encounter men and women who’ve been tortured, I notice their dramatic and disfiguring scars. But eventually I recognize their hardened core and, more often than not, their reinforced defiance and renewed commitment to that for which they were abused.

When I meet former torturers, they don’t proudly stand up and say, “Here I am, a torturer.” Unless they’re infamous, they have sought to compartmentalize their lives. At a lively game of dominoes or across a family dinner table, they can distance themselves from their past in a way that their victims can never even attempt. Occasionally, though, they are unwittingly exposed by a child who might say, “Papa was in the military and worked in such-and-such prison at such-and-such time.” The torturers squirm and change the subject, knowing they’ve been unmasked.

Can a torturer talk about his work at the dinner table? How does it feel for one who has to apply these “aggressive techniques” i.e. torture upon others? As Mr. Bukovsky attested earlier, they usually became problems for the country, these men who became sadists, who degraded the art of intelligence gathering.

My fear is that when it is most needed, none of our ears will bother to catch any voices at all. Then will the tortured see any reason to live on? And if they live, whom will they tell?

Don’t worry, Mr. Danticat. Bush will ensure you never see these individuals ever again. Don’t worry, they won’t have any reason to live beyond their sessions with their torturer….er….”aggressive technique technician”…..

It reminds me of Babylon 5, where Emperor Cartagia bemoans that G’Kar won’t scream for him. He says:

“Damned! Damned! Damned silence. He refuses to bow, he refuses to drink.”
“Majesty!”
“Did you know we assigned one of our best pain technicians — pain technicians, they used to be called torturers, ever since they got organized it’s ‘pain technicians’ — Why are you here? One of our very best torturers, I felt certain he would break him. Two hours he worked, not a sound. I said: ‘Give me a cry, rin-tintsy(?). Give me a shout, a whimper, a scream.’ Silence! So, I got to it myself. You can’t leave these things to others, they never get it right! And well, you can see for yourself. If I didn’t know better, I would say he was a mute. Silence! I’m beginning to understand what you’re going through with this G’Kar. How you put up with this at all, I have no idea.”
“He was a small burden.”

— Cartagia and Londo in Babylon 5:”The Summoning”

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