December 21, 2014

Will We Accept the Legacy of Torture?

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...
speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011, after receiving the "Defender of the Constitution Award". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Those of us living in the United States have known for some time that our country tortured people following 9/11. We may prefer to call it "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "EITs," but we were content to call it torture when it was being done to our military personnel by other countries. We were recently given the opportunity to take a closer look when the Senate torture report was released earlier this month. Although much of the report is still classified and does not contain the full scope of what we were doing, it is still plenty bad and even appears to have involved human experimentation. Amidst these revelations, we also had the opportunity to witness the disturbing scene of former Vice President and war criminal Dick Cheney on Meet the Press, expressing the level of remorse we'd expect from a psychopath.

The torture report and subsequent Cheney appearance raise many important questions about the sort of nation we are, but I'll only be considering one of them here. I vividly remember the first time I heard about the Holocaust in school. The question swirling around in my head was how the German people could have possibly allowed it to happen. At the time, I could not wrap my head around any acceptable answer. I tried to reassure myself with the notion that there is no way we would ever be party to such atrocities.

To be clear, it is not my intention to compare what the U.S. did to those it classified as "enemy combatants," some of whom were innocent, with the Holocaust. They are not equivalent. I mention the Holocaust here because I wanted to introduce my first experience with this question and was not sure how to do so without providing the context. It, more than anything else I can recall, raised the question about the sort of evils of which humans are capable, a question that has come up once again.

So here's the version of the question swirling around in my head today: now that we know not only that our country tortured but that we all know that our country tortured, what do we plan to do about it? Our elected officials and corporate owned news media have made it apparent that their answer is a resounding "nothing." There will be no accountability. Dick Cheney will never see the inside of a prison cell, and the many on both sides of the aisle in Congress who went along with it will face no consequences either. And what of us? We've now become distracted with the holiday season and with the prospect of North Korea interfering with our entertainment industry. I suspect that we will join our politicians and media in doing nothing and that the matter will largely be forgotten until the next time it happens (i.e., additional acts of torture committed by us or against us).

In 20-30 years time, will children learning about this sad chapter in U.S. history wonder how we allowed this to happen and why we seemed almost eager to do nothing about it? Will they be able to understand why none of those who ordered it were brought to justice? Will they be taught that it is not torture when we do it? Or will they even learn about it in school at all?

The crux of my fear was eloquently captured by Lisa Hajjar, professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara when she said, "An American majority, it seems, has come to accept the legacy of torture." Is she right? Are we really content to accept this as our legacy? What does this say about us as a people?

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