Torture: It’s a no-brainer

Long-time readers know I’m very cynical, but in these black days, even hard-core cynics still may be surprised. Cal Thomas’s “On Faith” column at the Newsweek/Washington Post Website is stunning. Thomas uses (gasp) the television show 24 as his jumping-off point, justifying the use of torture when “necessary to save lives.” (Thomas, who has won numerous journalism awards and worked for several networks, begins by asking “what is torture?” As Andrew Sullivan notes, it’s clearly defined in the U.S. Code.) The rationale that torture is acceptable if used to save lives deserves more analysis.

Assuming we are talking about torture committed by agents of the United States government, at this point in time at least, what other reason is there? Of course the intent is to save lives! So that attempt to deflect criticism simply won’t wash. No one is accusing the United States government of torturing people for any other reason. The U.S. Code, however, does not make such frightening distinctions. Nor does it allow torture in cases where, as Thomas puts it, “terrorists do not discriminate between those who favor torture and those who oppose it.”

Now we can ask, why was Title 18, Part I , Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code written in the first place? You needn’t be a legal scholar to know torture was practiced for centuries before Europeans discovered North America. The people who wrote our laws knew other countries and entities did not discriminate between those who favor torture and those who oppose it. Yet they had the moral intelligence and courage to place the United States above such barbarity, without the weasel-wording or professions of ignorance about what constitutes torture we hear from so many Right-wing ideologues.

Many Americans fear another terrorist attack on our soil. Evil (no softer word accurately defines those who justify torture) political and opinion leaders in our midst prey on that fear to advance an agenda diametrically opposed to all that is right, just and humane. And all the good intentions that once defined us as a nation.

Anti-torture laws were not written with opt-out clauses, to be ignored in times like these; they were written specifically for times like these. The people who wrote our anti-torture laws knew — better than we, obviously — there would come a time when anger, frustration and fear could cause their country to lose its moral bearings. They knew, again better than we, the beast that lies within each of us, and how that glib, smooth-talking devil jumps to the forefront in perilous times. The laws were not written for themselves alone, they also were written for us. Unfortunately for us, their foresight was better than our hindsight.

Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” Our generation stands at a crucial moment in history. Global warming and Peak Oil threaten future generations with hell on earth. We also stand at a moral crossroads. Anyone can be noble and humane in good times. People, individually and collectively, are best measured by how they handle adversity. We cannot allow fear-spouting savages like Dick Cheney, pseudo-Christians like Cal Thomas, or ambitious Caesar wannabes like Rudy Giuliani to turn us into beasts like them.

Comments are closed.