Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Torturous Examination of American Exceptionalism
I am trying to wrap my mind around the torture our nation has perpetrated on human beings in various Middle East black sites around the world during the last ten years. It has done so in our name with seeming abandon allegedly in response to the horror of 9/11. 9/11 was, no one can doubt, a killing field monstrosity – 3000 innocents crushed into the dust of falling buildings that became their coffins on a sunny day in NYC. It was destruction on a massive scale. Many others were killed at the Pentagon with half a building taken down and in Shankesville, PA. in a plane on track to hit the Congress but crashed instead into a lonely field killing everyone on board. The audio of passengers’ stating “Let’s roll” still rings in our ears as they tried valiantly to stop the perpetrators of the doomed flight. We, over and over again, keep reminding ourselves of that day of its own infamy which prompted our nation to commit the illegalities of a war based on lies and torture on a scale most thought unthinkable. The president and vice-president of the previous administration enlisted a host of eminent lawyers within the Bush Department of Justice to compose the legalese rationales for it.
Never forgetting the reasons for the perpetration of torture by this nation, I try to think of other reasons for man’s history of Torquemada-like torture using Middle Ages techniques and the modus operandi of tyrannical Communist and Fascist regimes evidenced in modern history. How, but more importantly, why would such things be done to human beings? We could collect quite a menagerie of numerous instances of monstrous description but rather than disgust you with the unimaginable details we must find some other explanation for them besides a response to 9/11.
From the torture chambers of the Middle Ages and its religious wars, to the trenches of World War I and the use of poison gas, to the gas chambers of WWII Europe and its mass murder containers of six million dead Jews, to the Agent Orange of Vietnam, to the Iraq War based on lies, and to the ISIS beheadings man never stops killing brutally. And yet some, perhaps most, put a brake on our basest inclination to perpetrate a violent act and, simply, refuse to do it. Most would not nor could not hurt an innocent. Most would not nor could not hurt an animal.
What was done through torture by our nation in our name after 9/11 is repugnant to those of us who like to think we are humane. It rises to the highest level of brutality and flouts Nuremberg jurisprudence a once great yardstick against man’s inhumanity to man. Its ethical verdict was supposed to be universally applicable. In history, though, examples of man's inhumanity to man are legion. Human depravity perpetrated against another is commonplace. We ask how a man is ethically able to do the most repugnant things to another. The salient question, though, we must ask is: why is man capable of doing repulsive uncivilized things to his fellow man without becoming nauseatingly sick?
There are those among us who, I am convinced, incredulous though it may be, enjoy torturing. Yes, they like it and take pleasure in the strength that torturing someone else allows them to feel. Some take pleasure in revenge but it cannot be denied, I think, that some who signed up to inflict torture including, mind numbingly rectal torture, simply liked to do it and worse the more vicious the torture the more pleasurable it became to them. Sadism is a word, a condition, and it is an illness which some men have but others do not. The larger question, therefore, becomes why can some do such heinously repulsive things and, indeed, rationalize it but others cannot. What separates some people from other people who enjoy the sadistic impulse to maim and kill? Perhaps the answer to this cancer, lies in one’s DNA and the organization of one’s genetic code.
What the nation has done in our name is surely not new but it is different. What makes it different to those of us with at least a shred of empathy is that this nation was founded on principles that are supposed to ensure men with power not stoop to man's lowest madness. Our Founders knew the most important thing was to put a brake on man's most murderous instinct, government's legal authority to perpetrate it and man's ability, through government sanction to abuse power. Our Founders gave birth to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – the fundamental bases on which our much touted exceptionalism rests. The nation's perpetration of torture makes mockery of that. No one will be held accountable for these egregious acts but a Black man allegedly selling loosie cigarettes is killed for it. What is wrong with this picture?
I feel duped, I feel sad, I feel powerless and wonder if the nation can ever recoup our own Jacobian birthright to its exceptional character again.