Perspectives: Torture, stop defending the indefensible

OPINION – We’re about to find out whether our most recent celebration of goodwill toward men was sincere or just for show.

After going through papers given to them by the CIA, staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month released a report on official U.S. government involvement in torture. The investigation started after committee members learned that videotapes of CIA torture sessions had been destroyed by Jose Rodriguez, whom I might characterize the head of the CIA torture program.

While the Senate Intelligence Committee has apparently elected to give Rodriguez and others a pass on their involvement in torture and in obstruction of justice, the staff members chose to pursue the investigation on their own.

It’s important to remember that the report currently making all the waves in Washington D.C. does not include the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program which detained suspects and farmed them out to Egypt, Syria, and Libya to be tortured. Nor does it address U.S. military involvement in torture in the occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the narrow scope of the report, there is enough verified horror contained within it to justify asking some pointed questions about the classified program and those who would excuse it.

For instance, of the 119 detainees tortured by CIA agents and contractors, 26 individuals were mistakenly held. This means that completely innocent people were detained and tortured for months. Not all of them survived their captivity.

Of the remaining 95 detainees, it must be remembered that their imprisonment and torture was an attempt to get suspected bad guys to give up information they were believed to possess. In other words, nothing was known with certainty that could begin to satisfy the requirements of due process which has long been the foundation of legitimate government.

Isn’t this the exact kind of lawlessness that was used, in part, to justify the invasion of Iraq? After all the other rationale for preemptive war fell apart like a soup sandwich, weren’t we told that closing down Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers justified our intervention?

Evil acts do not become sanctified when they are performed by Americans.

The lack of accountability for those who actively participated in what we used to prosecute and execute other torturers for doing isn’t exactly surprising. Our government leaders have shown that they are all too willing to lie and to justify their complicity with sophistic claims of legal permission they have given themselves.

Considering that the report released earlier this month was just the tip of the torture-as-policy iceberg, perhaps we should step back from the precipice and consider the foundational principles at stake.

Is torture a morally acceptable practice?

Partisan opportunists and fear-driven armchair commandos are quick to point out the evil acts of those our government refers to as “terrorists.” Allowing our government to become as disconnected from morality as it claims our enemies are serves only to increase the amount of evil in the world.

One man who could comment authoritatively on what it’s like to undergo prolonged, deliberate torture at the hands of government agents was the incomparable Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

He was arrested for making uncomplimentary comments about Stalin in a letter and spent many years in the Soviet Gulag penal system. When the police came to arrest him, he was certain it was a mistake and his good name would be cleared of wrongdoing.

Instead, he found that a mere accusation of “anti-Soviet activities” was enough to deprive him of his humanity.

In his masterpiece “The Gulag Archipelago,” Solzhenitsyn vividly described many of the exact techniques the CIA euphemistically calls “enhanced interrogation.” His account of the official use of beatings, starvation, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and other forms of inflicted suffering used against people being detained upon the flimsiest of pretexts painted a disturbingly clear picture.

Solzhenitsyn wrote with great wisdom and clarity. There was no need for exaggeration or hyperbole to convey the incredible evil that was done to millions of his countrymen in the name of national security.

When we lend our support to similar depraved measures being undertaken by our government, we invite a similar indefensible outcome. Remaining silent on issues such as torture amounts to tacit support of evil on our part.

One of the great realizations that Solzhenitsyn had while he was imprisoned was this:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.

He concluded that we may not be able to prevent evil from entering the world but we can keep it from entering through us. That is wisdom worth considering.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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30 Comments

  • ladybugavenger December 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Welcome to America…at first, I thought you were talking about our justice system

    • Vet December 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Bugavenger Your pathetic, you live here and hate it here. You hate our government and our justice system. It’s a free country why don’t you leave ????????
      I’m a Vietnam vet That loves the place I live. I served In a unjustified war , And we are still makeing mistakes but less often than others. You notice that I said we.

      • ladybugavenger December 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        I must have hit you pretty close to the mark to get you riled up like that. Get those blinders off, you are not seeing clearly. You won’t see me step a mile in front of the mexico boarder and you will never see me in mexico! Happy New Year!!!

      • ladybugavenger December 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

        Vet, your hate for me is misplaced, …uh hum. Thank you for you service. I do appreciate you fighting for our country. I was not born at the time of the Vietnam war but I do feel saddened by the way you and all others that served were treated when you came home. Welcome home Vet, thank you for your service.

      • ladybugavenger December 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm

        I don’t hate the whole government just the corrupt people in government. And I don’t hate the whole justice system just the corrupt people working in the justice system. I don’t hate all cops just the corrupt cops, because it brings uncertainty to the whole system, it brings distrust where there is suppose to be trust.

      • ladybugavenger December 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

        And the system protects the system…corrupt protect the corrupt and put fear in the not corrupt. One must have a lot of money or if your poor one must be brave without fear of dying to stand up against corruption cuz the corrupt will throw dirt all over you to protect their system….remember, I lived in corrupt LA county. I’m not blind or ignorant to this system.

      • Koolaid December 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm

        No. Bundy supporter types hate it here. These militant anti-government types are the same people who bomb buildings and kill people (Oklahoma City), create their own anti-government regimes (Waco, TX and who shoot police (Las Vegas NV).

    • Native born New Mexican December 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Ladybugavenger you and Bryan have it right. Cruelty and torture are not acceptable ever and yes it is rampant in our US legal system. It is in one form or another in jails and prisons every where. Mostly there is no justice in our system. Study the complicated court proceedings and legal maneuvers that go on in this country and you will understand that it is mostly just a vicious game that lawyers and judges are trained to play in court no matter the out come to the individuals whose lives are at stake. Here is a thought – if it is alright to torture someone else ( who ever that might be) then it is alright to torture me or you as well. An afghan saying goes like this ” what I do to my enemies today I will do to my friends tomorrow.” You never know when it will be you who becomes the enemy or the wrong doer. So many people believe it will never be them and they really don’t care what happens to that other guy.
      Bryan is right about something else the US really does not have the clean hands we think we do. Here is a great article which makes that point
      http://mises.org/library/criminality-state I am US born but I have lived on both sides of the southwest border. Don’t tell me to find another country. My American Indian ancestors have been in the Americas longer than anyone knows. My Spaniards came here before the English settlers and my first English ancestor came on the Mayflower. I am mixed blood, proud of it and yes, I can prove it all. By the way that family that came on the Mayflower- their later generations were at in Lexington, Massachusetts April 19, 1775.
      I respect and value the rights they fought for including the right not to be Jailed unjustly and certainly never to torture someone.

  • Roy J December 29, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Is torture a morally acceptable practice? That’s a good question, and one I am not sure that you answered, or that Solzhenitsyn as quoted here answers either. It seems to me that the question you are answering is rather ‘whether torture is a morally acceptable practice in every case’. A question that I think you and Solzhenitsyn answer with a resounding ‘No!’. I agree with that. But as to the first question, I don’t think that no is Solzhenitsyn’s answer, anyways I don’t remember him making a definite answer in the Gulag or in any other work of his I have read, and I have been reading and rereading the Gulag nearly every day for the past 2 years…cuz I am a freak like that. Perhaps another question might be added here, viz. the fact that, is it not the case that if a man accepts the legality of capital punishment, must he not also, a fortiori, accept torture as a morally acceptable practice in some cases?

    • Vet December 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      Good read, thanx Roy

      • Roy J December 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        Thx, VET, I enjoyed reading your comment very much.

    • Roy J December 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Anyways, here is what my own church has to say on the subject, as well as the most succinct answer I have seen Solzhenitsyn give regarding his own position:

      “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity”

      “In Catholic teaching, there is more than one victim of an act of torture. First there is, of course, a profound concern for the immediate victim of torture, whose body and mind suffer assault. But the church is also concerned for the human dignity of the perpetrator of torture, who is debased by the act itself. This is why the catechism, as it calls for the abolition of torture, also asks Catholics to “pray for the victims and their tormentors.” ”

      “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit…all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator. ”

      “The church views torture as an “intrinsic evil” that can never be justified. The inevitable harm it does to individuals and to society as a whole allows no exceptions. To those who would advance arguments for the exceptional use of torture to protect public safety, the Catholic Church argues that we cannot do something intrinsically evil and expect good to come of it. In 2007 Pope Benedict reiterated the teaching found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church “that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.'”

      Solzhenitsyn: “When we torture we are departing downward from humanity”

      • Roy J December 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm

        …adding to the complexity of the issue.

        • Roy J December 29, 2014 at 6:23 pm

          Here’s my favorite conundrum on this issue from pop culture: In the original ‘Dirty Harry’, Clint Eastwood tortures the location of a suffocating, kidnapped girl’s location from the kidnapper. To me this poses the problem of torture in its’ most difficult form. Those who have seen the movie will understand the difficulty, I think.

          • Bender December 30, 2014 at 10:46 pm

            And there’s your problem Roy, mistaking the movies real reality. Don’t feel bad, you’re far from alone

          • Roy J January 1, 2015 at 11:56 am

            No, Bender, actually I don’t ever make that mistake. And at the same time, if I think a problem is put well in a movie, I’ll use it.

  • Vet December 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Your right Bryan , but is it not naive to say that torture can not be justified? Can war be justified?
    Is dropping a bomb on Japan killing 100’s of thousands of Japanese during WW2 to save 100,000 of our American soldiers be justified?
    What is your point other than to sensationalize one issue and point at America and say that your are no better than the rest, excluding yourself of course.
    To quote John Mcane “I have mixed feelings about it”

  • Roundard Mout Heaton December 29, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    What is torture? Is it when, as an American tax payer, you sit back and watch as your government wastes funds on illegal immigrants, funding for the Palestinian fake government, help drag third world countries out of poverty, led the world in aids and ebola research, payout dollars for the lazy, waste billions on global warming as other counties ignor the EPA, give away jobs and pass them onto countries that pollute the earth with its dirty industries, fight extremist of all types to better the world and pay for it with american lives, dump trillions into military equipt to protect foreign nations, pay for 90 percent of the United Nations funding, led the world in diversity and equal rights, feed cloth and attend to every need of our prisoners foreign and domestic, and the greatest torture in the world Is hearing the hypocrites of the Democratic Party along with the liberal hypocrites that have changed this The United States of America into a none Christian country. Now go pay your taxes and watch as the liberals destroy our country completely.Torture ? water boarding ? My anus. 7,000 dead on So. Boarders by drug cartel and failed untrusting government, women beheaded and rapped thru out the Muslim countries, child abuse thruout the oriental countries, children starving and caring disease as the governments steal funding in Africa, Russia starves it people and the only jobs they provide are all criminal with criminal a leader, the wealthy in Europe use and steal the US dollar as they make their citizens deal in failed euros, America tortures no one, except for its own God fearing, hard working, freedom believing, legal citizens.

    • Koolaid December 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      You could be a fine representative of the Fools News Kool-aid Drinkers Association, which is several degrees more misguided than Tea Party people. Do you solely rely on Fools News sources to keep you ‘informed’?

  • Scot Harvath December 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Whenever really bad guys who are in the business of terrorism and killing Americans are captured, using any means necessary to obtain info is acceptable.

  • Vet December 29, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    There is no winners in war there are those that lose their lives and those that lose their soles. Only God can sort them out.
    now that the heat of war is cooling and the memory of those pour innocent soles jumping from the burning twin towers is fading. Cowards like Diane Feinstein come out of hiding and start pointing fingers at the lower ranks, is disgusting to me. She reminds me of Vietnam wars infamous hero, John Kerry…… later she will ask for a Purple Heart to help advance her political courier.

    • koolaid December 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      I hate losing my soles. It makes it difficult to walk. During the Vietnam era, the antigovernment youth culture promoted drugs and promiscuity. The older generation promoted drinking and smoking. There was racial tensions, promoted by politicians and religion. Remember Wallace? Terrorism? Remember the Kennedys? Oh yeah, the good ole days. People of that time now want everyone to think they were all red,white and blue religious people when in fact, it was one of the worst times in US history.

  • Dirt December 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    The Terrorists won. In fighting terror with terror we became who we thought they were. Our government leaders turned our Constitution and Bill of Rights into worthless scraps of paper and called themselves Patriots while doing so..

  • Vet of wars and rumored wars December 30, 2014 at 9:16 am

    To end all conflict dealt between the hate and the hated lies a very simple solution. In all society their are the less desire able that live amongst us. Hardened criminals that can not be reformed to fit into a society of law abiding people. All countries have them. Therefore to control the hatred between nations and people we start an exchange program. For instance extreme Muslims may hate American or Jews so we send those extremist one of our murders which ever one they chose. They can then do as they wish torture behead or just kill what ever. In return they send us one of their less desirables and we ave the right to do what ever we want to that individual. So on and so forth between all nations. It makes the extremist on all sides feel as though they have accomplished something good. In which they have, they cleaned up the worlds undesirables and help propel good upon the earth. The palistians the Jews the Arabs the europens the Americans the Africans all races creeds and color will now be happy we all take out our revenge and have cleaned out the prisons and save taxes so we can now go us the money for good to feed, cloth and house the poor. In fact the poor will have jobs managing the transfers of prisoners and record keeping so there won’t be any poor. So taxes can be lowed and working people can spend more on them selves driving up the economy creating more jobs in all the world. People become more self reliant. Can cloth themselves feed them selves pay the own medical by having good paying jobs. Government won’t need to waste money on military that money can be used to grow more food and share to the underprivileged. How easy WHATS that to save the world. Any questions or comments from the dumb folks.

  • ladybugavenger December 30, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Torture trading? Would there be stock involved? Double win?

  • sagemoon December 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

    “Is torture a morally acceptable practice?”

    Darn tootin’! If it happens in the movies, than we’ve all gotta be cool enough to make it happen in the real world. Wait a sec, isn’t it usually the bad guys doing the torturing in the movies?

    • Roy J December 30, 2014 at 11:08 am

      In ‘Dirty Harry’, it’s Dirty Harry doing the torturing. 🙂

      • sagemoon December 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

        Dirty Harry is an American icon. That makes torturing totally acceptable. All the cool, bad a** guys do it to their enemies.
        *Ed. ellipses

  • Maggie December 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I think it may come down to the question…how far would you go to get the information from a terrorist if it was your son or daughters life you could save?
    If you believe you would do anything to save them,then please do not be critical of the folks who are doing it for you. If you are from a military family you know that sometimes the price they pay for us is not only in days away from us. The same thing applies to others assigned to our security.
    We have a right to set guidelines for our military and CIA,etc. However when faced with immediate decisions that save perhaps thousands of lives from the likes of ISIS type folks ,do you actually think just saying please is the moral path to take? More and more bad guys are accessing nuclear and dirty bombs and no matter how much I would like to think there are no more Hitlers and Osama’s out there..history and the news tells me that is not the case. The good guys in history made some of the most difficult decisions,and they were not always the one’s we sitting on our butt’s at home would have made,however we are still here and able to discuss them.
    Then there is the question,just what would you do differently to save us from evil on earth. Give them candy?

  • Bender December 30, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    “spent many years in the Soviet Gulag Archipelago”
    .
    Not sure if Bryan is confused or this is just awkward phrasing/capitalization. Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned from 43-53 in various prison camps. Archipelago in the title implies a chain of gulags spread across the Soviet Union (like a chain of islands… e.g. the Aleutian Islands).
    .
    Solzhenitsyn had mixed feeling about the West, despite his 20 years in exile in West Germany, Switzerland, California and Vermont. He was big on Russian Nationalism and praised Putin before he died in 08.

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