Why We Must Investigate Torture

Part of the reason that I haven’t been blogging is that I’ve felt a bit soul-sick lately.

I know that this is almost certainly not the first time that my government has actually tortured people. It is, however, the first time that my government has done so publicly, accompanied it with brazen justifications – and not a damn thing has been done about it.

I’ve been kind of stunned since it began (seven fucking years ago!), to be perfectly honest. I’ve felt helpless and hopeless at points. It has triggered a lot of things in me (as a survivor of torture), and I’ve wrestled with how to take action in a manner that is not “fighting” anything (I’m a firm believer that “Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity”).

Oh sure -- I sent letters to my congress-critters way back when -- I had hopes that the new administration would actually do something -- but I’ve come to a point now where I simply cannot refrain from moving into determined and sustained action on this issue. I must know that I have done all that I can to help create the world I want to live in.

So, this post is my first step. It presents the reasons I believe that we absolutely must investigate, and an invitation -- because I want you to join me (action item at the bottom of the post).

As a citizen of the United States, I consider myself a “cell” in the body of this nation – a nation that I believe is very ill at this point. If I am to help my nation heal, I have to become an active agent in its healing. So, here are (some of) the reasons I believe that we must investigate Torture:

Reason #1 – Because There is a Festering Wound in My Nation’s Heart

The argument that we should just “move on” and “look forward”, ignoring the human rights violations of the Bush administration, would be fine and dandy – if it had ever actually worked.

Think about your own life. Have you ever really been able to just "move on" from an act of intentional harm that you perpetrated -- an act that you knew was wrong, either when you did it or after?

These are the acts poison the soul and haunt the psyche, until they are faced and investigated and understood – they are the acts that recovering alcoholics reveal in their Fourth Step, so that they can unshackle themselves from their past – they are the acts that people bring to the confessional and the psychiatrist and the terrifying moment coming clean with the beloved, hoping that love and connection will not be annihilated by the revelation.

They are the acts we are doomed to repeat, if we do not come to understanding of them. They form the dysfunctional patterns that swirl our lives into chaos and drama, if left unexamined -- no matter how much we’d like to pretend that we’ve “moved on”.

Think about the act of physical healing – the tiniest splinter, left untended, either poisons you or festers out, and no disease can be truly resolved until the underlying cause is addressed. You go to the physician, and together, you investigate your symptoms – nothing is treatable until it’s diagnosed, and in order to arrive at a diagnosis and any hope of treatment, you have to tell the doctor the truth, and the doctor has to tell you the truth.

And this is much more than an illicit affair, or a drunken disaster. This is much more than a splinter.

If any individual you knew told you that they had performed the same acts that the Bush administration sanctioned – would you shrug your shoulders and say: “Well, that’s in the past -- let’s just move on”?

I know that my country harbors many forms of "disease" in parts of its body – racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, classism, religious intolerance, greed – the symptoms of which have been sometimes chronic and sometimes acute -- but we have pretty much always at least claimed to be seeking a cure.

Even as a person facing a number of these oppressions, I've held on to the hope that that claim was genuine. Through assassinations and wars of invasion, through Watergate and Iran-Contra, I have stubbornly believed that the United States could one day fully manifest as the healthy body implied in the purity of this embryonic phrase: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . . ".

The national identity that most US citizens have clung to – the myth of our role as defenders of freedom and paragons of democracy – has been steadily eroding for years now, as leaders of our nation tiptoed up to, and then stepped over, the slippery slope of these oppressions. Descending into State-sponsored, State-justified torture means, to me, that we are approaching the awful bottom of that slippery slope.

Go ahead -- say it, out loud, that way -- State-Sponsored Torture.

I think we need to say this out loud to ourselves, and to hear it broadcast from our televisions, and blared from the floor of Congress, so that we can face reality -- the diagnosis is in, and we're sicker than we thought.

There is a festering wound in the heart of my country -- and that’s a dangerous place for deep infection – very dangerous indeed.

Reason #2 – Because There Is an Enormous Log In My Nation’s Eye

When you criticize your neighbor for doing despicable things, and then invade their home under the pretense of getting them to stop doing said despicable things, and in the process, do similarly despicable things – you look like an arrogant, hypocritical, disingenuous asshole.

Depending on your despicable acts, you may also look like a criminal arrogant, hypocritical, disingenuous asshole.

Even if you get away with it and no one turns you in, everyone in your neighborhood who heard you bitching earlier is going to know, and they are going to see right through your claims of moral superiority and righteous intention and ending tyranny and blah, blah, blah.

Until the United States cleans its own house, the entire world will rightfully suspect us of being exactly what we are being: Arrogant, hypocritical, lying assholes. A nation that doesn’t believe in its own Constitution or laws. A nation that is, at once, meddling busy-body and bossy, obnoxious teenager, throwing its weight around and refusing to take responsibility for its actions -- with a penchant for torture.

Finally, and perhaps most pragmatically, there is this reason to investigate:

Reason #3: Because We Said We Would, and then We Said We Would Again

The UN Convention Against Torture was signed by President Reagan in 1988, and ratified again in 1994. The United States has not withdrawn from the Convention, and is still bound by it. The Convention says, among other things, that:
"“torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
But . . . But, Waterboarding isn’t torture!!!

Doesn’t matter. The arguments that waterboarding is not torture, specious as they are, make no difference, because the Convention goes on to say:
“Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
But . . . But . . . Ticking TimeBomb!!!!

Doesn’t matter.
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
But . . . But . . . . I was ordered to do it!!!!

Doesn’t matter.
“An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”
We just want to move on.

Well, poor us -- too bad. If we are to honor our agreements as a nation, we must investigate – because we say we will.
"Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction."
I won’t even go into the clauses that state that we will give victims of torture the right to redress and adequate compensation.

Suffice it to say that it is completely clear, even if an investigation was made and the acts committed under the Bush administration were found, by the entire world, not to be torture (and pigs could fly)– the United States – my country – WE – have an obligation to investigate -- promptly and impartially.

I believe that my government is currently in violation of its own laws and international treaties.


So, here is my invitation to action.

Beginning this week, and continuing every week until an investigation is underway, I will write a letter to my congressional representatives, President Obama’s office, and the United Nations.

I will request from my reps that they push for investigations with every ounce of their strength. I will tell them that, if they do not, I will not vote for them again.

I will request from President Obama that he order investigations. I will tell him that, if he does not, I will not vote for him again.

I will request from the United Nations that they hold my nation accountable to the UN Convention. I will request this as a citizen of a country which I believe is currently in violation of both its own laws and its international treaties.

I will invite everyone I know to do the same.

If you'd like to join me, I'm glad to share my letters with you. I'll be publishing them at Teh Portly Dyke, as well.

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