Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The debate over the use of torture

The debate on torture accelerated this week and, hopefully, something good will come out of it. On the same day that the state of California violently executed Tookie Williams, the Vatican published the Pope's message for the upcoming World Day of Peace. In his first official proclamation, Benedict XVI denounced torture as an unacceptable, unnecessary way to fight terrorism and invited all world leaders to respect international humanitarian principles. The Nation dedicated its special issue published this week to an examination of the "sweeping moral seriousness" of violence and especially torture and the potential damage that "the torture conspiracy will do to America and its democratice institutions." At the same time that Nobel Prize winner for Litterature, Harold Pinter was lambasting the US for years of abusive foreign policy, Condoleezza Rice was trying to reassure European leaders that the US did not hold prisoners in secret offshore detention centers in order to extort information from them outside of its borders, therefore skirting its own offical policies against the use of torture. This selective use of policies is "cleverly" manipulated through strategic use of language, says Katrina vanden Heuvel in her recently published book, Dictionary of Republicanisms. According to the author, the book examines in a satirical way the "Orwellian doublespeak" of political leaders. In spite of its humor, the book sounds like a sharp critique of the dance around the definition of what constitutes torture and, of course, who can be tortured and where! I look forward to reading it.

What does this all mean? Can we hope that the disaster of Abu Ghraib, the recent revelations of abuse of prisoners in Iraqi prisons, and the reports of torture of Guantanamo detainees are hitting home and calling us to really examine our actions? A sign that people are listening and do care is that President Bush, bowing to pressure no doubts, finally agreed to support Sen. McCain's legislative proposal that the US would officially condemn all forms of torture and "the inhuman treatment of prisoners in US custody."

As a nation and as members of the global community, we cannot accept that human beings can be executed or tortured in the name of justice, and in our name. Justice cannot be served and neither can peace be achieved through the use of violence or any actions that degrade human beings.

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