June is Torture Awareness Month, a time for people to devote some of their attention to the forces that promote the torment of human beings. It’s not June yet, but the month is coming soon, so I want to reflect on the content of a couple of torture-related messages I’ve run across today.
One is from a visitor to Irregular Times that got me thinking about why I oppose torture. That visitor wrote, in response to yesterday’s article about Erich Mancow Muller’s realization that waterboarding is torture, “why don,t you be fair and go threw spt.11th the same way, since you are so much concern about these cretures well being” ([sic] all over the place).
It occurred to me that this visitor believes that the only reason to oppose torture is a particular sympathy for the person being tortured. Yet, that’s not what motivates me at all. I don’t know any of the people who have been tortured by the American government, and I am not a member of any social group similar to theirs. I don’t think, to be honest, that if I were to sit down in a room with any of them, I’d have much to talk about, even if they could talk English. I probably wouldn’t like them any much, even if they hadn’t committed violent crimes.
Yet, when it comes to torture, that’s just not relevant. My opposition to torture is a result of my love for liberty and justice, which are incompatible with torture.
In a just a free nation, the fairness with which the law is applied must not be dependent upon whether the people in question are people we like. In fact, a nation can be judged as free and just to the extent that it deals fairly with people that almost nobody likes.
Once the government makes exceptions in the law to allow rough and unfair treatment of unpopular people, then no one can count on the government to treat them with dignity and fairness. After all, the pendulum of popular culture is fickle, and people who once found themselves in favor can, within a few years, become social outcasts. People can be wrongly accused of terrible crimes. Dissidents can be set up. Presumption of guilt can lead to massive mistakes.
So, when President Obama announced that he is setting up a second, substandard system of justice for people who have been accused, but not convicted of heinous crimes, and when the United States Senate voted to allow the Pentagon to cover up photographs of torture in the future so that the public need not know what is being done in its name, all Americans suffer the consequences, whether they realize it or not. The consequences that we suffer are collective in nature: The integrity of our national character decays. We none of us are truly free when freedom becomes a privilege dependent upon the whims of political leaders.
The other torture-related message I ran across reflected the decay of our national character, though perhaps it wasn’t intended to. It came from EndTorture.net, which was once the site of an anti-torture project by a group called Citizens for Global Solutions.
The global solutions never came for that project. Torture is still going on, perhaps even being done by the US government. The Obama Administration, which most people assumed would strongly oppose torture, has been setting structures in place that will hide past acts of torture and future acts of torture alike. EndTorture.net did not end torture.
EndTorture.net itself came to an end, in fact. The site was abandoned, and then picked up by Internet buccaneers who converted the site into a cheap commercial piece of garbage. Among the most recent articles at EndTorture.net are:
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Please, don’t let yourself fall victim to the same apathy that led EndTorture.net to become a home to nothing but snake oil spam. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the selfish deception that torture is only a problem for the people who are actually tortured.
For Torture Awareness Month, and for the rest of the year, I ask you to rededicate yourself to the ideals of liberty and justice that this nation was founded upon, and to work against those politicians who are selling those ideals in exchange for momentary political advantage… whether those politicians go by the name of Democrat or Republican.