Progressive Writers Bloc

Torture: Can Anything Be More Un-American?

Uncle Bill Warner

There are many kinds of torture, from being forced to watch Gilligan's Island re-runs to attaching electric wires to the genitals. When I was a kid, I read about the horrible devices used in torture chambers beneath the dungeons of medieval castles: the rack, iron maiden, thumbscrews, branding, amputation, whipping and other fiendish devices invented and applied by sick minds. Torture of "heretics" during the Spanish Inquisition was turned over to civil government. Torture to save heretics' souls was forbidden to the Church so they "out-sourced" the dirty work , much as the U.S. sends detainees for interrogation in other countries that employ horrible methods forbidden to our people.

I would like to think we no longer use torture on folks just because their religion is not straight, but there are a lot of muslims who would argue otherwise. The avowed purpose of turture is ostensibly to gather intelligence. However we see it also being used for purposes of intimidation or even just plain revenge.

Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer, a deputy director of the State Department Office of Counter-terrorism from 1989 to 1993 wrote in a recent article in the L. A. Times, "During the last few months, I have spoken with three good friends who are CIA operations officers, all of whom have worked on terrorism at the highest levels. They all agree that torturing detainees will not help us. In fact, they believe that it will hurt us in many ways. My friends recognize correctly that their mission is to gather intelligence, not to create new enemies. If you inflict enough pain on someone, they will give you information, but what they tell you may not be true. You will have to corroborate it, which will take time. And, unless you kill every suspect you brutalize, you will make enemies of them, their families, maybe their entire villages."

In his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book on the Vietnam war, "A Bright and Shining Lie," Neil Sheehan exposes the horrible tortures used by the South Vietnamese Army (the "good guys") which drove thousands of peasants into the arms of the Viet Cong (the "bad guys"). It did not accomplish what they wanted; just the opposite.

Johnson goes on to remind us that torture is dehumanizing both to ourselves and others, and the fear of being attacked should never be used as justification for this barbaric practice. He thinks we watch too many movies, from the same folks who taught us that smoking was "cool," where torture is a routine method of extracting information used by both the bad guys and the good guys. Says Johnson, "Cheney's plea to permit CIA officers unrestricted interrogation methods would be the death of the CIA as a professional intelligence service and another stain on the reputation of the U.S."

We Americans like to think of our military as superior to the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, or SAVAK in Iran, so many of our detainees are "outsourced" to countries where brutal torture is the rule. Who's fooling whom?

Neither Vice President Dick Cheney nor any of the other folks in D.C. who want to let CIA use torture have never experienced torture themselves. Maybe it would be an eye opener to have a few techniques they approve used on them, just for the educational value of the experience. It is not by chance that the greatest legislative opponent of the U.S. use of torture is Senator Jon McCain, who knows about torture firsthand, having been a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

It is sort of like saying that crime is bad and should be punished, except for the Mafia, who can do as they wish. Crime is crime, torture is torture, and if the information extracted under torture (prohibited by the Constitution which says that a person cannot be forced to testify against himself) is as useless as many CIA folks say it is, then why do it?

One of the reasons I am proud to be an American is because of our ideals and the rule of law, both legal and moral. When we betray the principles on which our country is built in the name of expediency and "the ends justify the means" we are no better than the "good Germans" who looked the other way during the Nazi reign of terror during the 12 years of the Third Reich while millions were being tortured and killed. Tacit approval is complicity, and Americans need to listen to people like Sen. McCain. It is time to speak out against this most un-American attitude and counter-productive practice!

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