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.
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