Saturday, April 18, 2009

Never again!

Political or not, patriotic or not, love or hate our President - the memos released yesterday were shocking, horrifying and nauseating. As well they should be - if we were living in a nation where torture didn't disgust us, didn't make the bile rise in our throats, I would be terribly afraid. The intricacy of the memos details clearly that those who wrote them sought to justify their actions, in whatever way necessary. It is undeniable that our government sponsored the torture of prisoners. Whether you believe those prisoners should have been there or not, the fact is we TORTURED people!! Our tax money went to paying for this, the American Red Cross and the AMA did nothing to stand out against it when that is their JOB! Physicians, trained in America, watched as we mimicked the experience of drowning. Take a day where you accidentally 'swallowed wrong' and the fear and coughing - now multiply that by a conservative 10,000 degrees of fear. This is what we did to people.

I have tears in my eyes because the idea that MY government did this disgusts me and makes me feel like less of a person. Because, in all fairness, what did we do? We knew at some point this was happening - the leaks from Guantanamo, the slips from CIA, the word from an appointed defender. Yes, we yelled and maybe cursed the administration, but did we do ANYTHING! No. We should have marched on Washington, we should have protested, we should have protected those people because they are HUMAN. But we didn't. I honestly don't know why I didn't. I have fought for human rights for over half my life. I've marched on capitols and even trained people in the Amnesty International campaign that focused on America (back in 1999). I spoke out against our country and never feared, but under the previous administration, I was terrified. It is far from an excuse, but it may be an explanation. In so many ways, the fear of 1984 was upon us. We were being monitored, watched, listened to.....but we didn't know why or who they would target next. We regularly joked about making the wrong statement online or searching the wrong terms and ending up in Gitmo. But underlying these jokes was the truth - we were afraid. Our rights were being stripped from us and we sat frozen like a beaten child - afraid that if we moved or did something wrong it would only get worse.

This damn administration turned America into a weapon of mass deception - we lied, over and over and over, to the world. We lied about why we went to Iraq, we lied about Abu Gharaib, we lied about Guantanamo, we lied about secret CIA facilities overseas, we lied about bids on contracts, we lied about what was going on, we lied about so, so much. It is time to stop lying, damnit, it is time to stop pretending that because we have the power we must use it! My God, we TORTURED people . What for? To get answers? Well, numerous studies have shown that torture does not yield reliable answers. People put under that pressure will say or do anything to make the pain stop, to make the torturing STOP. So again, why did we do it? The only answer I can find is "because we could" and that is so completely irrational that I shudder when I type it.

I'm glad that the memos were released...but now what? Obama and Holder have both made it clear that what they stated was not a blanket immunity, that those who did things outside of what they were told to do will be prosecuted. What about those 'inside the law' - well, the laws that were being made up as we went along - what about them? They still tortured, they still defiled another human being in the name of 'duty'. Nuremberg proved that 'following orders' is an inadequate defense. But then, what about us - all of us - we were complicit to this. If you know a crime is going to happen and you don't report it, you're complicit to the crime. We knew what was going on...oh, we may deny it now and feign our shocked looks, but we knew. Just as a parent knows when their child has done something wrong, that gut feeling from our animal side, the warning in our brain that things aren't adding up, we knew.

I can't even imagine what the world thinks of us now. Actually, yes - we're thought of as massive hypocrites! We scream about stopping weapons of mass destruction and threaten countries for building bombs, but we're the ONLY country that's ever used such a weapon. We raise our fists against the torture of our troops in every war (or conflict) but then we do the same. Wait, no, that's not entirely correct. Most of the people we did it to weren't troops, they weren't fighters, they weren't part of an organization, they just were the wrong ethnicity hanging out with the wrong people. I don't deny that there are people in these prisons who deserve to be locked away. Don't misunderstand me there - but there are many, many more who were turned in by neighbors who wanted their land, or by governments trying to get rid of dissidents.

I am an American, and I have always been proud of that. But right now, I want America to demonstrate the amazing capacity for correcting wrongs that I know we are capable of. I want us to learn, to discuss and to make sure that this can NEVER happen again. Never again.

In response to an email sent by a friend, here are some clarifications:
I can understand that torture has been a part of war - but that doesn't make it right. I understand that your brother was at Gitmo and saw no torture, however much of the torture did not occur at Gitmo but rather occurred at CIA centers in other countries. It was conducted by NSA and CIA employees - not military guards. (This comes straight from the memos)

My hopes for the current administration are based on the fact that these memos were released and that we are taking ownership of what was done. The attack on the towers was horrific and many innocent people were killed, but we cannot use it as an excuse for everything. If that was the case, the Japanese would have had every right to attack us as well. We may have bombed in response to a military attack (a military target, which killed 2400 Americans), but we bombed and killed innocent civilians (199,000) too. Since beginning our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, more military have died than all the people from the 9/11 attacks. I had no problem with going after Osama Bin Laden, but when you send fewer soldiers than the number of police on the island of Manhattan, you can't actually expect to be successful. Iraq was never involved in Al Qaeda and while Hussein was a terrible man, none of that had anything to do with 9/11. The fact is much of the world wasn't significantly impressed by the number of deaths on 9/11 because they lose that many people each day to famine, bad water, disease, war and terrorism. We could have used the money spent on many of our contracts in Iraq to provide safe drinking water for most of the world. That would have done much to stop terrorism by simply improving our 'persona' in the world.

What, to me, is the absolutely baffling part about pushing for torture in this case is that it has been clearly shown that information gained by torture is rarely reliable and has often cost lives (as in the bombings of London tubes) by sending police and military into ambush situations.

I understand and respect your opinion on this and I agree I would do whatever was necessary to protect my family - actually, anyone I loved and cared about - but that mentality as policy can never lead to good.