Category Archives: Torture

Little Shop of Horrors: CIA Torture Report Released

The CIA Inspector General’s report was released yesterday (due to the efforts of excellent groups like the ACLU), so if you’re looking for a deeply depressing  read this morning, there’s over 150 pages of horrors. One of the parts that really makes me shiver is where the interrogator threatens to rape the detainee’s mother and female relatives, and kill his children. Many of these prisoners are, in fact, innocent–although it seems our torture techniques are expressing suited to creating enemies and encouraging violence.

I particularly like Glenn Greenwald’s commentary on Salon over what it says that Americans aren’t expressing intense outrage at the U.S.’s cruel and inhumane punishment:

The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle — all things that we have always condemend as “torture” and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies (“torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .”) — reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.

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Silence from the Pulpit: Torture and a Moral Voice

Until I was 17-years-old, I was what you could refer to as a “Christmas Catholic.” I’d had the baptismal waters flicked on my face as a baby, and from that point on my sole connection with the Church were the annual trips to Christmas mass with my dad; though by then agnostic and on my way to atheist, Christmas mass attracts many once-a-year Catholics and non-believers who enjoy the carols. Thus, I might have continued tagging along, if not for the unfortunate circumstance of missing Christmas mass that year, and attending the Sunday after as a substitute.

Christmas mass always presented a love and peace affair, so I’d never discovered that the priest in my dad’s town was one of the more political preachers, fond of mixing extremely conservative rhetoric in with his Bible passages. Between the lurid denunciation of murdering unborn babies and exhortations to support the war in Iraq (the war, not the soldiers, completely separate issues), I determined that I would not be attending any mass again. I couldn’t find any pleasure in the carols, knowing what the congregation supported.

Liberal Catholic friends assure me that political priests like this are unusual; I’m not sure whether this is true or not. I’m also not sure whether it’s a positive fact.

A Consortium News article clued me in to an April Pew survey that found a positive correlation between church attendance and support for torture. 54 percent of people who attend religious services at least weekly believed torture was often or sometimes justified, versus 42% of those who go seldom or never. Furthermore, people unaffiliated with any religious organization were the least likely to believe that torture is often justified; white Protestant evangelicals the most. Kudos to mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians), who are the most likely to state that torture is never justified.

I’m an atheist, and I’d fall in the “torture is never justified” bracket. But what interests me–and what Consortium News author Ray McGovern also considers–is that belief in God is not being measured here, but rather affiliation with and attendance for organized religion. McGovern hypothesizes: “My guess is that those who go to church on Sunday expect a modicum of moral leadership.  If the pastor is silent on torture, then torture must somehow be okay.” So, unlike my dad’s priest on abortion and the war, it’s not about what is being said from the pulpit–it’s about what isn’t. Continue reading

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Red, White, and Blue: Bid Patriotism Adieu

It’s almost the Fourthof July: red, white, and blue color store windows, early (unauthorized) fireworks boom at night, and patriotism fills the air–leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

It’s not solely bitterness over the way conservatives cried “anti-patriotic” (stealing a page from McCarthy) to stifle dissent toward the Iraq War, the anticipated resulting disaster, and the tragedy of unnecessary death. Some might call this a “misuse” of patriotism, a manipulation for a corrupt political agenda. But I don’t think it’s a misuse at all: it reflects the essential nature of patriotism and what it’s used for.

Patriotism and nationalism divorce people from a sense of universal humanity. Sure, the well-being of friends and family is and should be more important to you than that of people you’ve never met–the ability to create these bonds of personal caring is fundamental to human nature. However, there’s little noble in determining one stranger’s life to be superior to another stranger’s based solely on their nationalities. It’s not personal connection or human feeling that creates this situation: it’s an us-versus-them, we-are-better-than-them, mentality, that treats members of other countries as subhuman.

Would over a hundred thousand dead Americans be an acceptable toll for the Iraq War in the eyes of the U.S. public? Doubtful–the few thousand American fatalities to date are seen as too much, and even in the much-protested Vietnam War we lost just half that number. Yet, over a hundred thousand Iraqi deaths are overlooked. That’s patriotism: believing the death of human beings means less if they hold a different passport from your own.

In response to a question regarding whether better means than torture exist for gaining intel, former CIA officer Michael Scheueur replied: “Why would you care? If we get the information we needed and America is better protected, who cares? …These are not Americans.” That’s nationalism. That’s patriotism.

As the 4th approaches, the American public is learningabout the 100 detainees who died under torture, while Obama considers an executive order that will allow him to continue the Guantanamo Bay practices of indefinite detention. Is this something to celebrate?

“Patriotism” is also the concept behind intolerant (sometimes violent) religious fundamentalism, just by another name; it draws from the same place as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. It’s about division.

We learn patriotism from the get-go, from idealized stories of the Revolutionary War taught in elementary school classrooms and children’s books. Especially in a democracy, war-mongering relies on patriotism and demonization of the other; domestic industry utilizes it to gain protective tariffs and subsides, and to wage economic warfare; and countries claim “sovereignty” to keep free of international agreements that would “bind” them” to serve a global well-being, ruining the potential of organizations like the United Nations.

I’ll love seeing the light show over the Hudson on Saturday, but let’s not swoon over a little razzle-dazzle. And if you’re desperate for a substitute for nationalistic patriotism on the 4th, think about becoming a card-carrying Citizen of the World. Hey–while he might not be registered, even Obama called himself a citizen of the world in Berlin last year. (Let’s hope he remembers.)


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