What Is Wrong with Torture
What Is Wrong with Torture
The war in
On the contrary, the senators showered one another with compliments. Senator Hatch held up Senator Specter, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as "one of the best lawyers we've had serve in the United States Senate." Senator Biden agreed, calling Senator Specter "the finest constitutional lawyer in the country -- maybe not the country, but in the Senate (laughter)." Senator Leahy called Senator Hatch "one of the most experienced lawyers ever to serve." The senators praised Gonzales, too. His "beautiful family" (Specter), including his mother-in-law, was introduced and feted.
And yet the acts mentioned above, all performed by
In other words, his advice was to throw out international law so that torturers could escape the consequences of
The senators' language regarding torture reflected, with exceptions, the horror of the matter as dimly as their flowery praise of one another. None, it is true, went as far as to suggest that restrictions on the abuse of prisoners were "unilateral disarmament," as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial did. Most of the senatorial defenders of Gonzales's record concentrated on denying his responsibility for one or another of the damning memos. More striking were the arguments against torture by those skeptical of the nomination. Two dominated. One was that torture hurts the image of the
But are these the fundamental reasons that torture is unacceptable? Can this nation now understand pain only if it is experienced by Americans or, through some chain of consequences, it rebounds upon the
Torture is not wrong because someone else thinks it is wrong or because others, in retaliation for torture by Americans, may torture Americans. It is the torture that is wrong. Torture is wrong because it inflicts unspeakable pain upon the body of a fellow human being who is entirely at our mercy. The tortured person is bound and helpless. The torturer stands over him with his instruments. There is no question of "unilateral disarmament," because the victim bears no arms, lacking even the use of the two arms he was born with. The inequality is total. To abuse or kill a person in such a circumstance is as radical a denial of common humanity as is possible. It is repugnant to learn that one's country's military forces are engaging in torture. It is worse to learn that the torture is widespread. It is worse still to learn that the torture was rationalized and sanctioned in long memorandums written by people at the highest level of the government. But worst of all would be ratification of this record by a vote to confirm one of its chief authors to the highest legal office in the executive branch of the government.
Torture destroys the soul of the torturer even as it destroys the body of his victim. The boundary between humane treatment of prisoners and torture is perhaps the clearest boundary in existence between civilization and barbarism. Whether the elected representatives of the people of the
Jonathan Schell is the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute. His most recent book is The Unconquerable World.
Copyright C2004 Jonathan Schell
[This article will appear in the upcoming issue of The Nation magazine. It appeared online at Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]