Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How to Fight Monsters.

The image accompanying this post depicts an act of torture. Is this the method of legal interrogation that we wish to see adopted in the United States? What if the torturer assures us that he or she is "only doing this for the victim's own good"? Is it o.k. if the torture takes place secretly? Do you wish to live in a society that tortures people, secretly, with the cooperation of judges and lawyers?

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Who are we as a people?

I think the only way to answer that question is to look at our traditions, beginning with American Constitutional and literary traditions. I find many valuable things in those traditions. There is a humanism at the center of the American experiment, a powerful concern with the rights of the person that grows out of an Enlightenment celebration of reason and Christianity's belief in the moral worth of persons. These are the ideals to which this nation is committed. They are not "corny" or comical, nor are they and everything else just about "power." These values are certainly threatened today and in need of defending. They are not Republican or Democrat values. They are American values.

These values make the horrible tortures of persons in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib offensive to American national identity and culture. We cannot be the people we believe and hope that we are if these tortures become routine. The same is true for subtle psychological conditioning techniques used against people -- without their consent -- which are only more terrible when they are used secretly. Torturers, like New Jersey's Terry Tuchin and Diana Lisa Riccioli along with judges (Deborah T. Poritz) who make their crimes possible, are destroying what is most precious about this country by their evil actions. Censorship and destruction of creative work falls into this category of sadistic evil.

I have discussions with adversaries in Internet chat rooms who reduce the whole of human politics and ethics to "might makes right," then proceed to criticize the United States on moral grounds.

The painful reality of American participation -- at a systematic level -- in torture has done much to undermine the plausibility of the U.S. commitment to humanism for much of the rest of the world. This is true even in countries that are said to be "friendly" towards the United States. This doubt about America's "goodness" will damage U.S. interests for decades to come. Political leaders and pundits should understand the importance of this loss of esteem.

The crucial issue with torture in Iraq, or here at home, is what it says about us: that we no longer seem to care about people, or human rights. I do not believe this, though I have my doubts, but we must not allow others -- at home or elsewhere -- to believe it.

Bob Herbert states in The New York Times, October 10, 2005, at page A19:

"Senator John McCain, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq [initially], has sponsored a legislative amendment [to the military budget proposals] that would prohibit the 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment of prisoners in the custody of the U.S. military. Last week the Senate approved the amendments by an overwhelming vote of 90 to 9."

The Bush Administration has, allegedly, said that it will seek a veto or alterations of the law that will have the effect allowing for continued cruel treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. If this is true, then it is a grave mistake by the President. We take a step towards becoming what the terrorists are by adopting such an attitude to the torture of any human being. These humanitarian considerations are not luxuries that we can do without in the course of waging a struggle against "evil." They are the reason why we wage this struggle.

The meaning of the Constitution simply is the infinite worth of each person and the resulting inviolability of rights. Notice that I said "persons" and not just American citizens or people who live within our borders. This includes all persons, however humble or powerless. ("No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.") No one may be tortured. And this includes, once again, psychological torture based on hypnosis or drugging, harassment, stress-inducement, anxiety and assaults on memory or identity.

This is not simply because no one deserves such treatment, but because we must be morally better than torturers and terrorists, who believe that everyone deserves such treatment. No "cruel and unusual punishments." We must not become what our enemies are.

It is no solution to our intelligence needs to reduce others to objects for manipulation and control, to serve as instruments of our purposes. And if the U.S. government can do such a thing, then what we are -- what we must be if we take our Constitution seriously -- is already lost and terrorists have already won, because we have become terrorists. Torture has been described as the mirror-image of terrorism.

"Senator McCain met last week with Capt. Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate who was one of three former members of the 82nd Airborne Division to come forward with allegations, first publicly disclosed in a report by Human Rights Watch, that members of their battalion had routinely beaten and otherwise abused prisoners in Iraq. In a letter that he sent to the Senator before the meeting, -- ironically, a soldier has been more eloquent than all of the politicians -- Captain Fishback wrote:

" ... Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

Elected officials must enact legislation which prohibits future acts of torture, by anyone, on behalf of the United States, or of persons under the custody of the U.S. military for any reason, and the President must sign that legislation. It now appears that all doubts have been resolved and that such legislation will be enacted. It cannot take twenty-one years to punish torturers. Censorship cannot go unpunished for years as the world sees the destruction of creative work take place without punishment of those responsible for such barbarism.

Anyone who tortures another person, physically or psychologically, commits a "crime against humanity" and should be prosecuted for it. Any judge or other public official aware of such torture, who does nothing to stop it and to punish those responsible, is morally complicit in that atrocity and must be treated accordingly. ("Terry Tuchin, Diana Lisa Riccioli, and New Jersey's Agency of Torture" and "What is it like to be tortured?")

I have every confidence that torturers will always receive the punishment that they deserve, after being afforded due process of law and only if they are convicted of these offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. I also know that some of us will never stop in struggling to see torturers brought to justice. ("Does Senator Menendez have mafia friends?" and "Senator Bob, the Babe, and the Big Bucks.")

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