Rev. Neil O’Farrell asks: At what time did American civilization end?
The United States tortures human beings. We’ve called it “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but ethics demand we call things by what they are, their real names. Torture. Supposedly President Obama put an end to torture at the beginning of his presidency, but we learn from many sources, including a front page story in the Washington Post on April 1, 2014, “CIA misled on interrogation program, Senate report says,” that so many lies were told it became an uncontrollable addiction, like a drug hit.
Lower men on the ladder were telling higher men on the ladder deliberate lies, either out of habit or because the truth was just too ghastly—or a lot of both. So how would the president know whether his orders ended torture or not?
And how do we, either the president or us, know if it’s stopped or if it’s still going on? If you didn’t read this story, you could have read the information elsewhere. It’s been slithering through the media trough for quite some time. It’s a subject most of us would rather not be reading about at all. Even if the president was successful in quashing the practice, the scars and national disgrace will follow us for a very, very long time.
At what time did American civilization end? It ended when a short, young woman from West Virginia held a leash around a naked man’s neck while he cowered on a prison floor, and someone took a picture of it, and the image traveled throughout the world.
Sometimes I look at adults and imagine them as children. What does the face of a child look like if that child is going to grow up to torture other persons? The banality is that children look enough alike that there would be no way of telling. Perhaps a better question is what does the face of a 60-year-old man look like, one who tortured others when he was in his 20s because the United States decided that it was good statecraft in order to become an international pariah. The Lord of the Flies, but all grown up.
Torture as a response to the War on Terror, whatever that was, was mostly a men thing. I’m sure even good men got caught up in its tangled web. We know that women were involved because of the pornographic war photos from the Abu Ghraib prison, like the iconic one mentioned above. One of the ways to demean Arab men was allowing them to be touched and seen by women while naked.
One could look at the female face of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Today she seems so different from the woman who became mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of that city’s mayor and first gay council member, killed in the marbled chambers of city hall.
She came to public prominence after a hail of bullets, and ends up as the chief member of Congress sanctioning the brutality of men against other men, essentially for no reason—no reason at all. In her public life, violence begets violence. And torture is mainly a man’s thing.
The report that is the subject of the Washington Post article states that no actionable intelligence came from water boarding, buckets of ice water, brain concussions, broken bones, forced nudity, and all the rest. While men were doing all of these things to other men, we discovered what we knew all along: if men are inclined to lie, they lie; if men are inclined to tell the truth, they tell the truth.
The obscene irony is that much of the lying was done by us, the good guys. The CIA and the National Security Agency lied to everyone about what they were really doing. What they were really doing was too terrible to reveal. So they lied. That is why all the conflict about whether this secret report should be declassified or not. It shows just how many lies were told. Another bitter irony is that Sen. Feinstein was more angered by the lies she was told, than she was appalled by the terrible things that were going on at so called “black sites” in dark holes throughout the world, where law and decency had little sway or respect.
The American Government’s chief oxymoron: Department of Justice. That, after all, is where the judgments were written giving some kind of legal veneer to all of this.
Most of us would still be sickened if something valuable had come from the torture. Imagine how your heart and soul would be ripped from your chest if you did terrible things—for no good purpose at all. “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” goes the little girl’s question. How does a man implicated in what the United States did (I hope it is “did” and not “does”) answer that question?
Obviously, we have to ask ourselves questions what we thought we would never have to ask. Very. Hard. Questions. Where is the line (when someone orders me to do something) between what I will do and what I will not do? How high a value do I place on truth telling? On human life and dignity? Are there justifications that don’t justify anything? When do we challenge authority, and is there ever a good time to quit challenging authority? Does defense of country ever slip into a country not worth defending? As citizen of that nation, how do we call our leadership to account? As a citizen of that country, how will I/we recompense the victims? To whom do I say I’m sorry?
Hardest of all, now that we did this: What can we do to make sure it never happens again?
Right now there is a report that many people have seen, and countless more know what’s in it. (I’ve never seen it, but I sure know.) Yet one more article was published about the report on of all days, April Fools’ Day. We’re playing “potato, potato, who’s got the potato” with it because no one wants to end up with it, with no one left to throw it to. Its secrets are just too horrific.
One last point in this rant: we might need a new word. We need a word to describe what a secret is when it’s not a secret any longer. Actually we have that word.
The word is truth.