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Torturing Ourselves to the Dark Side

Right before the Academy Awards, I settled down to listen to my almost daily dose of, a virtual salon of substantive punditry. Instead of libertarian principles or a debate of the presidential candidates, I was treated to a 47 min. discussion between New York‘s film critic David Edelstein and Alex Gibney, the director/producer of Taxi to the Dark Side.

So impressed was I with Mr. Gibney’s (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) grasp of American torture policy under Bush and Cheney that I selected his film over SiCKO to win Best Documentary on my Oscar party ballot. The doc won, and so did I. “Victory and human rights? Can it be so, Mr. Yoo?”

The room of smart guys at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also nail the sickness of enhanced interrogation techniques. Jared writes:

While watching Taxi to the Dark Side, I found one scene particularly disturbing. Afghan detainees are being processed by U.S. troops as they enter U.S. custody. The detainees stand in a line; their sleeves, rolled up. A U.S. solider, with Sharpie indelible marker in hand, begins to write the prisoner’s ID number on his right inner forearm. Even writing this post I am having a horrible visceral reaction to this image. Marking prisoners in this way harkens back directly to the number tattoos that mark Holocaust victims. The symbolism is disgusting.

If that’s not enough for you, the Washington Monthly gives America 37 leaders articulating why we must stop the dehumanization of our opponents. National Association of Evangelicals honcho Richard Cizik lists four reasons why Christians should fight this stuff. “A consensus is emerging within our churches about our obligation to speak out against torture. As evangelical Christians, we have a non-negotiable responsibility to oppose a policy that is a violation of both our religious values and our national ideals.”

In the same issue, Jimmy Carter writes:

“Our nation, which overcame slavery and segregation to proudly raise the banner of human rights for all to see, now finds itself condemned amid the indelible images of human degradation, perpetrated by U.S. forces in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Our government’s persistent unwillingness to ban the use of torture by its own agents or to grant access to legal counsel or prospect of a proper trial to hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay emboldens those who oppose human rights elsewhere.”

If one still harbors doubts about the moral and strategic use of waterboarding, I recommend the New Yorker article “Water Cure: Debating torture and counterinsurgency — a century ago.” It is the source of the picture above, reportedly taken in May, 1901, during the Spanish American War, depicting a “water detail,” in Sual, the Philippines. “It is a terrible torture,” one soldier wrote.

More and more folks of faith (and soldiers) are speaking up on the torture issue, this is particularly significant because traditionally religion has been the most closely connected to issues of conscience and physical suffering. As the state steals the rack from the Grand Inquisitor, those who follow a higher ethic, from liberal Hollywood to evangelical moderates are working to pull America back from the dark side.

FYI: June is Torture Awareness month. Find out how you can get involved with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture here. And join the 18,000 who have signed the statement.

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