Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Of the free

I can't believe anyone could speak up for torture.

(There, I said it. I discarded a lot of high-minded ways to start this post, full of fake erudition, when all I really wanted to say is:)

I can't believe we aren't, as one, condemning torture.

By that, I mean the world, but I'll settle for my country.

I can't believe that as the Senate Intelligence Committee last week released a report on torture conducted by the CIA since the events of 9/11, the debate has spun on the merits of torture, the report's lack of thoroughness, the political timing of its, the global repercussions of its disclosure, the who-knew-what-when.

The merits of torture. Really? Agents of our government torturing people in our name.
(Pardon me, sir, but your naïvete is showing.)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said last week President Bush knew about the torture, it saved a lot of lives, and he'd authorize it again if he had the chance.

Though as I recall, events under his purview went like this: (1) Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, (2) agents began torturing people in our name, (3) our country went headlong into a war with Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist (and where also didn't exist the terrorists who directed the flying of planes into the World Trade Center), and then into war in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden, leader of the terrorists claiming responsibility for the U.S. attack, was found and killed 10 years later, in Pakistan.

Maybe valid information comes from torturing people. Two wars having little to do with the events of 9/11 indicate: Probably not.

Agents also tortured innocent people in our name, extracting information that couldn't possibly have been useful. 

President Obama declared an end to torture, saying it is not what our country is about, and I agree.

Tell me: Do you believe no one right now is torturing people in the name of our country?

Maybe because it's not called torture. In this report it was often called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

One of the exquisite qualities of our government is that we are a nation of laws, not of men and women. Not only is this meant to prolong the health of our country, it's designed to protect us from the whims of despots and tyrants and loonies.

On paper. In theory.

Clever people see to the conduct of our country, based on those laws. As a rule, I favor clever people, rather than stupid people, representing me.

But key clever people have used law to say torture is not torture, that with a change of name, change of angle on a dislocated arm, change of voltage and — voila! — not torture. Enhanced interrogation techniques.

Maybe it's called something else now. Maybe by its new name, it's legal, because it's not "torture."

We are nation of laws.

Last week two memes did their trick on me, leaving me cold and peeved. You know memes, a means peculiar to social media in which an image and phrase are put together, usually cleverly, to comment on issues of the day.

[Digression: Where do memes come from? Is there a meme factory? I ask because the font, called Impact, all uppercase, white overlaid on a diffuse black shadow, is the same in virtually every one. Is there some kind of international meme style book? Some kind of global meme law? What gives?]

One meme is a variation of the World Trade Center towers exploding and burning, or of the infamously chilling image of a man falling headfirst down a tower's face, both soon to be no more.


The other is a still frame from a video moments before the beheading of American journalist James Foley by a member of the Islamic State in Iran and Syria (or Islamic State in Iran and the Levant, what have you). The text is something about how these "pricks" behead Americans, so why should we worry about torturing some terrorists?

I'm sort of glad I can't find the meme now.

I get the sentiment: Terrorists are despicable, enraging, cowardly, beyond words. The world must stop this hell ISIS/ISIL has unleashed, not to mention the Taliban in its many forms, al-Quaeda, et. al. 

But the United States is not ISIS/ISIL, does not aspire to be ISIS/ISIL. Supporting torture in our name because terrorists commit terror sort of says terrorists call the shots, set the culture.

We try to forget, though we really shouldn't, ours is a nation built by, and on, atrocity. I am here in this place and in this state, as a result of government trying to wipe this land clean of native people so intruders — my forbears — can have it and make their own life in their place. Atrocity scars the veins of lineage, bloodies the memory, for many Americans.

Looking for a global hypocrite? Look no farther. We're hard to miss.

But ours is also a nation that hews to fine words, lofty ideals. If we mean to follow those words, we can be better. We should be better. Torture is us, but it should not be.

We are a nation of laws.


  1. Spot on Shawn. I'd add that torture is illegal, it's proven to be ineffective in terms of the information it brings. We in the UK are certainly not blameless in this. And if we hold ourselves up as the moralisers while we do this, who the hell is going to believe us in our breathtaking hypocrisy?
    One thing that horrified me was the complicity of doctors in this. People who advised on how to torture for longer without killing. They must be struck off and prosecuted.
    Some of those tortured were innocent. The wrong people! I've even seen that being justified in the name of catching the bad guys.
    I'd argue that we created IS by our behaviour. Bin Laden was Saudi, yet they are George W's friends so we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq instead, and argued for some form of western democracy that was never ever going to exist. Look at what we've unleashed.

    1. unfortunately i feel small and helpless in this complex web of duplicity/diplomacy, one of a myriad issues. "protectors" of the status quo worry publicly how other sovereign states and groups would react to news of these admissions — as if they didn't know already, as if it would never get found out.