Thursday, April 30, 2009


I am one of those people who annoyingly and too frequently reminds people I know that life is a gift. So, in those rare moments in your life when someone you deeply care about talks of ending it all, or how much easier it would be to just “check out,” there I am, repeating my sometimes unwelcome mantra, “Life is a gift.”

That being said, you might guess how I feel about the latest debate over torture. I want to get ahold of torture proponents and remind them of a little something called the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the United Nations in 1984. Prior to that, in 1975, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Oh, and way before all that, in 1948, the U.N. enacted the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which clearly stated ‘”No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Not only did all of this take place, but each of these instruments had safeguards in place that were supposed to ensure that any possible violations would be avoided.

So, tell me, what happened that a 21st century President of the United States, George W. Bush, found it permissible to allow simulated drowning (“waterboarding”) on his watch? And how is it that the self-proclaimed holiest among us, white evangelicals and Roman Catholics say in majority that torture can “sometimes” or “often” be justified? And tell me, when did life and death issues become fodder for glib, often uninformed talking heads on cable television, such as Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman? Watch this:

Further, has everybody conveniently forgotten about the U.S. Code? That’s the set of permanent U.S. Federal laws. I want to point out Title 18 of the Code: “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Listen, even if none of the above has any meaning to you, consider this: Even with its internationally tainted image, the United States is still looked upon as the epicenter of high civilization. If individuals at the highest levels of the American government demonstrate tolerance for something as uncivilized and inhumane as torture of human beings, will nations of lesser moral fiber and far lesser development not follow suit? If the U.S. does it, well it must be the thing to do, right? Irreversible precedents are being set here. Doesn’t anybody get that? Didn’t George W. Bush (right), Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice get that?

I could go on and on about how inhumane, unethical and primitive torture is. I could try to pull your heartstrings by reminding you that all of those individuals who have been tortured are human beings with somebody somewhere who loves them. I could try to scare you by reminding you that once we exercise leniency in the act of torturing other human beings, we open ourselves up to such an act if and when the global tables are turned on us. Instead, I think I’ll just appeal to your basic intelligence and sense of logic: If a person believes he or she is going to die as you simulate drowning on their person, isn’t it likely that they’ll say anything you want them to say? Even Olberman said that in his interview in the video you saw above. How accurate can information be when you are simply coercing someone to say what you want them to say by threatening their life? Aside from how disgusting the act itself is, the concept is idiotic.
So, how widespread is the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques? That is what proponents of acts such as waterboarding call torture. Does it go way, way beyond Gitmo? Did Bush, Cheney, Condy, (left) et. al. cavalierly endorse the use of barbaric methods to get information that is probably not worth a damn anyway? Spain and the U.K. seem to think they did. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concurs.

If torture was not okay in Nazi German, or in Rwanda, or in more than 150 countries in which Amnesty International has documented instances or torture, is it acceptable when the most highly civilized society in the world does it? I think not. It seems unfathomable that there is even debate about the use of torture. If the gracious and poised Ms. Rice condoned the use of “enhanced interrogation,” she must be held accountable. If the Prince of Darkness, Dick Cheney (right) encouraged the infliction of pain and suffering, even against terrorists, he likely disobeyed the law and should be punished. And since the buck clearly stopped at the desk of George W. Bush, it needs to be fully investigated, including interrogation of the former President, and ultimately appropriate punishment.

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