Friday, November 14, 2008

On torture

Reading this article about a new documentary entitled Torturing Democracy reminded me of one of the primary reasons I decided to broaden this blog from it's restricted focus on atheist issues. A few months ago, I began to question some of my long-held beliefs or assumptions about the world. I soon realized that the world was not the way that I had always believed it to be.

I, like most Americans, believed in the fundamental goodness and morality of governmental policy. Not always in its outcomes, but certainly in its intent. When problems (abuses?) cropped up, I didn't make the connection that the could be deliberate or pre-meditated. I thought they were probably isolated incidents, or a few "bad apples". After reconsidering my positions, I realized that I was wrong.

The American government tortures people. Please stop and consider that for a moment- your government tortures people, and in your name. They degrade, they dehumanize, they inflict pain, they isolate, and they drive people insane. Not only in Abu-Ghraib (warning:graphic images), not only outsourced torture to other countries-- but also on American soil, and against American citizens. In violation of international law, the United States government has tortured-- and probably still is-- torturing people as I write this. Some of those in charge of these programs have sought advice (or absolution) from a priest for their despicable actions:

Vandeveld described a crisis of conscience over the prisoners' treatment and the ethical handling of cases that led him to quit last month as prosecutor.

"I am beginning to have grave misgivings about what I am doing, and what we are doing as a country," he wrote in the Aug. 5 e-mail, which the priest shared with The Associated Press on Monday night. "I no longer want to participate in the system, but I lack the courage to quit. I am married, with four children, and not only will they suffer, I'll lose a lot of friends."

And yet it's not front-page news, it's not a scoop, it's barely even acknowledged. Despite the fact that John McCain was a P.O.W., the issue was barely even visible during the most recent presidential campaign. The ACLU is worried that Obama will forget about his early campaign promises, and so has taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times to put pressure on him to fulfill those promises. People around the world danced and celebrated Obama's election, hoping that he's going to reverse these horrible actions. I hope they're right.

How did we get here? I thought we stood for truth, justice, the American way? I thought we were a "shining beacon on a hill". The media is complicit in keeping torture on the back pages, as are all of us. Every day that goes by and we don't try to stop it, means one more day that someone is getting tortured.

...People are imprisoned without charges or access to attorneys, and it's routine. People are surveilled, their reading habits studied, their telephone usage logged, and it's commonplace. People, including children, end up on a secret list of those who are not allowed to fly, nobody will tell you why, there is no appeal, and it's ordinary. We swallow lies like candy, nod sagely at babblespeak, and it's unexceptional.

Torture is inflicted with White House approval, the president lies about it and it's just another Tuesday.

Once upon a time, Americans were fond of looking upon backward nations, upon places where law was whatever the king said it was, and noting with pride that we do things differently in our country. But that was a day long ago and a country long gone.

If we miss the one or mourn the other, you'd never know it to look at us. We live through what feels evermore like a Joe McCarthy fever dream. We feel without feeling, hear without hearing, see without seeing and do not protest what we have become.

Because this is normal now.

Can you live with that?

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