Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tortured Thinking

In article in the Washington Post, Interrogator Eric Fair tells his story. Here is a small part of what he had to say:

"A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.....That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004......The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him".

The moral of this morality tale seems pretty clear to me: you become what you do. Unless he is a true sociopath, the torturer becomes the tortured. No one with a conscience can violate their own honor so fundamentally and emerge on the other side without feeling themselves deeply stained by dishonor. When the Abu Ghraib scandal first hit our consciousness, it had its defenders and, in fact, it still does, two of whom happen to be the President and Vice President of the United States. But the evil of Abu Ghraib wasn't just what we did to those we considered our enemies but the evil we were willing to inflict on our own.

When I worked at the Sheriff's Department, the guys used to tease me, calling me their "token bleeding heart liberal". In truth, I was more liberal than most of them, although I think I am more moderate than liberal. But labels don't matter all that much. I'll accept liberal if that's what people think I am.

To me, torture isn't a matter of liberal, moderate or conservative, it is simple humanity. I am less religious than most people I know if you define religious as being sure of the details. I don't have the certitude about God and exactly what he expects of us that some have. I accept the faith of others at face value. They have a right to believe what they believe and if its not the same as what I believe, I mostly keep my mouth shut. But, I simply cannot agree that you can be a follower of Jesus Christ and also believe in torturing other living beings. Surely those who sincerely try to follow the concept of WWJD would have to twist their faith into a pretzel to think that Jesus would condone torture.

I wonder if even the people who made light of Abu Ghraib, such as Rush Limbaugh, who likened what happened there to college "pranks", could actually do it? Would be be unmoved as he heard another human being, cold, hungry, naked, sleep-deprived and in pain, pleading for mercy and simply shake him awake or force him back on his feet so the punishment could go on? Would he simply chuckle at the screams of the prisoners tormented by his actions? Would he be able to sleep like the proverbial baby after it was over, unlike Eric Fair? I expect Rush would vow that he could but I like to believe he is wrong and that for all his verbal verbosity, when faced with the reality, Rush would discover his heart.

Truly, as they say, 911 changed everything. It has changed America into a country I almost don't recognize anymore.