The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the torture of prisoners by an official agency of the United States provoked a howl of protest from the usual suspects.
Unfortunately, a poll conducted by the Washington Post also indicated that a small majority of Americans approved of torturing prisoners.
That should sadden us all. The “usual suspects” objected on the grounds that releasing the report besmirches America’s reputation and gives comfort to our enemies.
Others argued that it reveals methods of interrogation against which our enemies can prepare themselves. Those who made these arguments really protested for only one reason: they see the report as confirming that the Cheney Administration (with President Bush as a weak figurehead who could be talked into anything) not only had bouts of megalomania informed by fanaticism and crippled by incompetence, but may have had sociopaths in its leadership.
The idea that the report besmirches America would be risible were the subject not so disgraceful. The truth is that everyone knew that the United States had subjected hundreds, if not thousands, to the euphemistically-named “enhanced methods” or turned them over to other countries that we knew tortured their prisoners.
Anyone who argues that no one knew about the torture either suffers from self-delusion or never opened a newspaper nor turned on the television to learn about Abu Ghraib and “extraordinary renditions.”
The facts had already disgraced America’s good name. Releasing the report enables us to rise from the gutter into which our government had sunk us and prove that we are a democracy of laws and conscience and that we can trust our people with the truth no matter how bad it may be.
Arguing that the report revealed methods of torture would be even more hilarious were it not indicative of an appalling ignorance among our politicians, not to speak of their deep moral failings.
Methods of torture have been public knowledge for millennia. Many countries have delighted in torture for as long as history records. I have seen Mayan temple carvings eight centuries old depicting scenes not unlike Abu Ghraib.
Our soldiers suffered torture as prisoners of war in World War II. (I suggest you go see the new movie Unbroken or get the Bridge Over the River Kwai from Netflix.) We certainly knew everything there is to know about torture. In fact, we hired two so-called physicians, who had written manuals on how to withstand torture, to design our own torture chambers.
Cheney and his supporters claimed that torture works in getting vital information. This argument gained traction because too many Americans watched TV shows that glorified torture and always led to a confession in the last five minutes of the episode.
All the evidence collected by the FBI and other U.S. agencies over decades indicates that this argument holds no water. Torture not only fails to produce good information but also does more damage to us than it does to the enemy. We tortured innocent people who often lied just to stop the pain.
This created new and bitter enemies. Avoiding torture of the innocent is possible only if the torturers previously know that the detainee has the information. In that case they already have ninety percent of what they need and any decent interrogator can get the rest.
Successful interrogation requires trained operatives who can manipulate the subject psychologically and make him willing to reveal information that he might not even tell his own mother.
The classic example is the interrogation of German intelligence agents captured after landing from a U-Boat by U.S. Army interrogators. The interrogators in fact were mostly German Jews who befriended the Nazis and convinced them without coercion to reveal a treasure trove of information. For those willing to take the time to learn more, I suggest you Google “Project P.O. Box 1142.”
Which brings us to the frightening poll revealing that a majority of our fellow citizens approve of torture. In recent days I have had ample opportunity to make my arguments to many good people who had criticized the Report.
When confronted with facts, they mostly retorted that given the savagery of what befell America on 9/11 they really did not care if innocents suffered along with the guilty or if the information gotten was flawed.
The torture satisfied their atavistic cry for revenge. A final point, those who practice torture may start out as normal human beings. Torture dehumanizes the torturer as much as his victim and numerous scientific studies conclude that practicing torture turns the practitioner into a sociopath. I fear that public approval of torture indicates the disease is contagious.
The pragmatic argument that torture does not work and causes great harm to our country pales before the moral argument. Practitioners and supporters of torture have Final Accountability.
The Germans at Nuremburg argued that they were only obeying orders. We correctly rejected that argument. Even silence gives tacit approval to the sin. Orthodox Christians do not have that luxury.
We will each face our Maker before that Dreadful Judgment Seat (To Fovero Vima) and each of us will have to give an account of what we did in these dreadful times.
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