Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Against Torture

I have stood in Het Graven Steen in Gent, Belgium. This is an old castle that also contains a kind of museum of torture. Some ominous and horrible devices are shown that use starvation, drowning, stabbing or prolonged discomfort as means of torture. I recall thinking that we were beyond such things. How relieved I felt that as a modern, enlightened culture we would not use or face such things.

I believe the United States has held and should renew and preserve a place of leadership in the world as a society that respects people and is governed by laws that specify and gradually curtail the means of punishment allowable for crimes by the seriousness of the offense.

Maybe in our times, new levels of awfulness have arisen. There are now crimes that I hear of that I never even imagined when I was younger. Sometimes our laws are not equipped to handle these developments in a way that seems satisfying, appropriate or even necessary for our safety.

I must admit, the mentality of those who would attack the U.S. seems, to me, to be less evolved than it should be. It is like our enemies are acting on an instinctive, animal, territorial level driven by primal fear. How else could inhumane and murderous acts be justified? Yet, we should not allow these developments to justify the regression of our own culture. I want to stand up and say that civilized nations are better than that. I think we can use our intelligence to solve complex problems without resorting to torture.

There should be limits on the means of interrogation. No matter what the threat to our national security, debasing ourselves is a threat to our national integrity. What makes our security so worth protecting is our values, our staunch unwillingness to reduce ourselves to the level of those who hate us. How can we say that slowly modernizing cultures should look to us as an example of why they should westernize when we are abandoning our distinctive and precious good qualities?

We need to fight the ignorance of those who do not value human life. We need to keep our values intact to demonstrate the preferability of tolerant, mixed, secular societies, and the glory of the freedom to choose. If we have anything that could be construed as torture in our detention facilities, we should eliminate it now and turn from that path to one of a more enlightened society.

Let us look to the British example of preserving Habeas Corpus in all the world, with no exceptions beyond the seas. Then criminals can be tried and, as appropriate, receive sentence or release. There are other solutions to the worlds problems beyond torture and endless detention.

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