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The Legacy of Torture

Reported by Marie Therese - June 17, 2004 -

Today I watched a replay of the gut-wrenching plea by the sister and son of Paul Johnson as they begged his captors to see him as a brother, father, grandfather and friend to the Saudi people. As I wept for the pain this family is going through, I was struck by the price they - and we - are all paying because, a year ago, the Bush administration chose to walk the path of darkness.

Prior to the awful images of Abu Graib, in the face of horror, we as a nation could rise, speak with one voice, whether rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, and, shaking with righteous indignation, denounce the barbarism of the terrorists. We were secure in the knowledge that we were better than they, we were the good guys, we wore white hats and played by the rules.

No longer.

We are governed by men who publicly preach moral certitude and Christian values while privately creating a climate in which acts of humiliation, torture and death become commonplace.

The devils of expediency, revenge and fear tempted us and we succumbed. It's so much easier to beat a man than to talk to him, cajole him, win him over.

Some high-profile conservative commentators, like Bill O'Reilly, argue that torture is just fine, as long as you do it to a terrorist in the name of national security.

The arguments go something like this:


"The media are also letting us down. The hysterical reporting on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal has badly damaged U.S. intelligence. Once again we are seeing politically correct thought undermine intelligence gathering. Few Americans condone torture, but U.S. intelligence should not have its hands tied by obsolete rules that put all of us in danger..." (Bill O'Reilly, Talking Points Memo, The O'Reilly Factor, 6/1/04)

"How much proof do we need to the Supreme Court, to show these people that Al Qaeda's gonna cut off the heads of anybody they get, they're gonna blow us up, they're gonna kill us, and, if we keep going by Martha Stewart rules, we're...puttin' ourselves at risk. How much proof do ya' need?" (Bill O'Reilly to Judge Andrew Napolitano, The O'Reilly Factor, 6/1/04)

Mr. O'Reilly, it seems, would abrogate any law, treaty, agreement or convention that got in the way of his own agenda. In a nutshell, he'd bend, fold and mutilate the law to save his vision of the the American way of life.

His outlook reminds me of a scene in Robert Bolt's wonderful play," A Man for All Seasons", in which the wily and learned lawyer, Sir Thomas More, uses his encyclopedic knowledge of British law to avoid execution at the hands of Henry the Eighth. The following exchange takes place between More and his rash young son-in-law, John Roper:


"MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow, then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."

Mr. O'Reilly, and others of his ilk, want solutions that are short and to the point - "pithy" if you will.

When I was a child, I thought as a child.

But now I'm all grown up and I've put my childish things aside.

Grown-ups know the world is not filled just with primary colors, that problems can't be solved by bashing the other guy's brains in, that diplomacy is painstaking, tedious, messy and no one's ever happy with the end result.

Never did Jesus say "Blessed are the torturers. Blessed are the humiliators. Blessed are the murderers."

He did say "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God." (Matthew 3:9)

I hope the Supreme Court does not listen to fear-mongers but, instead, reaffirms the right of every American's citizen to legal representation and a trial by jury. Perhaps they will even broaden those protections to extend some rights to foreign prisoners currently housed in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.