Friday, January 17, 2003

it is the nature of violating civil rights itself that is wrong, without regard to whose rights are being violated, and for what reason

a memory i have from november 2002

acquiantance: so what are you doing here?
me: i'm handing out this flier so people can get information and possibly do something about stopping torture.
acquaintance: you're really not saying anything, you know. of course everyone's against torture. that's like saying killing puppies is bad.
me: so you're against torture?
acquaintance: of course.
me: so are you worried about the actions of our government in fighting terrorism, specifically guantanamo and the possibility of extraditing people to other nations in which they could be tortured?
acquaintance: well that's different.

this week, the lead story in The Economist: Is torture ever justified? the special report articles focus on the possibility of the U.S. using torture in the war against terrorism. they argue a very tentative case that you can't use torture because to employ torture is to destroy international credibility. they take note that there may be times when torture seems justifiable, and mention alan dershowitz's argument that courts issue "torture warrants."

i will refrain from simply screaming, HAVE YOU ALL GONE MAD PEOPLE and heading off to have a drink

i should say that i firmly believe that part of the reason why the question of whether torture is justified can even be posed is based absolutely fundamentally in a human inability to truly empathize. to truly put yourself in another person's shoes. to argue that torture is sometimes justifiable is to do so with the idea in your head that you, of course, would never do anything to have someone make this case against you. you, of course, as the beacon of truth and principles that you are, would never find yourself in such a situation. or you, of course, just go about your daily life, buying bread and going to work and paying taxes like a good citizen. and you, of course, are not a terrorist.

besides, you live in america. your government can't legally wiretap your phone, read your email, and watch you. your government would never do anything so violating as that, and it would certainly never elevate things to the next level by taking you into a senate hearing and questioning you about your political beliefs or destroying your career because of them. no, our government would NEVER do those things. (at this point, i hope you are aware that this is sarcasm. first of all, our government can legally wiretap your phone, read your email, and engage in any surveillance they see fit as passed in the USA PATRIOT Act. second, our government has elevated things to the next level in the past during mccarthyism, and not to mention, the dealings of tricky dick's men against any remotely threatening democratic opponents. see: the campaign of muskie in tn for more information. our government is no saint.)

there is a very serious linkage between the general disrespecting of civil rights and the usage of torture. the basis of both is degrading people by making them into "the other" and justifying whatever it is you "need" to do as a result of this demarcation. there is a great emphasis on "NEED." what we absolutely NEED to do in order to stay safe.

it amazes me that dershowitz, of all people, would suggest that courts issue "torture warrants," seemingly subscribing to the idea that we NEED to do it sometimes. this is a man who has spent his life fighting the death penalty in courts, often citing how racism plays a serious role in deciding the executorial punishment. does he seriously think that the issuing of "torture warrants" would be a process untouched by racism? or is it different, because this is racism that would most likely only affect middle easterners, arab-americans, perhaps just immigrants, not blacks?

at this point, when i am ranting aloud, i have thrown back at me: "so, WHAT, you support the rights of TERRORISTS? what about OUR RIGHT to LIVE?"

you know, when the federal building in oklahoma city was bombed, there was a trial. we arrested the suspects and had to prove in a court of law that these people were, in fact, the terrorists. in my opinion, this is the only principled way of being able to clearly and definitively label a someone a "terrorist." otherwise, how exactly do you know that the person is a terrorist? because they act sketchy? because they are uncooperative? because they happen to be from yemen? because they didn't renew their student visa on time? BECAUSE WHAT. i encourage people who argue that torture is justified admit what they are truly endorsing. they are endorsing using a form of violence against SUSPECTS in order to "get information." unless, of course, the torturing comes after a court trial.

how did you decide they were terrorists again?
what if they were white guys?
how come tim mcveigh wasn't in front of a military tribunal?
why is this different?

fundamental inability to put ourselves' in other peoples' shoes.

well i think the case there is pretty clear. but what if the guy is pretty obviously a terrorist? say you arrest a fellow with a bunch of dynamite on his back, about to walk into a 7-11 in Anyville, USA, with a lit match. now if he's white, the cops will assume he's just an isolated militia whackjob. if he's middle eastern, he's part of a cell. and if he's part of a cell, he might know the names of other people in that cell. he might even know about OTHER CELLS! there is a general threat, as usual, that the federal government has issued about terrorist attacks. should the authorities torture this guy to see what he knows?

now let's be clear. there are very few proponents of racking the man, pulling out his fingernails, or gauging out his eyes. but as quoted in The Economist, there are definitely people about who think that perhaps "stress-and-duress" techniques are okay. you know, tamer forms of torture. sleep deprivation, hooding, being held in awkward positions, denying painkillers for injuries. you know, maybe sometimes you beat them a bit. in fact, there are officials, as reported about in the Washington Post in late December, who say that the u.s. government is already doing these things.

the urge to do violence often comes as a result of fear. hate can often also be traced to fear.

do we really want to be That Guy? do we want to be a society that employs tactics outlawed time and time again by international treaties and by our own laws, because we are afraid? even if we are afraid for a very good reason? do we want to shame ourselves and sully our reputation by torturing people? and don't mistake it: read _unspeakable acts, ordinary people_ by john conroy to find out about modern lives of the alleged IRA men subjected to sleep deprivation and "position-holding" by british intelligence in 1971. just a little "stress-and-duress." nothing too damaging...nothing that wouldn't allow the authorities to have trouble sleeping at night...

our authorities involved are already having trouble sleeping at night. otherwise, they wouldn't be speaking to post reporters and essentially asking the american people if they are upset by what is going on.

think carefully. if you keep me standing up against a wall for six days and beat me if i try to sit down or if i fall down, don't let me sleep, hose me down with freezing water, have a hood over my head, don't feed me: yep, i'll probably talk. hell, i'll tell you my name is michael bolton if it's what you want to hear. anything---just to make you stop. there are cases in which torture victims have in fact disavowed their own name. no, no, i'm actually someone else. just to make the pain stop. clearly, this is a reliable system for garnering evidence. one in which a person will say absolutely anything. our society throws out confessions made under duress. how is this different again?

our country is better than this. we're smarter than this. we should know that unless we act differently, our time will be no different than that of all people who ever lived. that our united states will not be an eternal, lasting good unless we rectify mistakes of the past and stop making them---until we actually subscribe to our constitution. we have to actually believe and act in accordance with the idea that all men are created equal. it's really this simple: if you wouldn't want a loved one tortured, then you can't support torture. because it is the nature of violating civil rights itself that is wrong, without regard to whose rights are being violated, and for what reason.


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