Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Torture Tapes: Conscience of a Spectator (12.30.07)

“To a spectator it would look like torture,” he said. “And torture is wrong.”
That sentence at the end of the latest revelations related to the "Torture Tapes" says it all. No matter how these people rationalized their behavior, no matter what tortuous logic they used to imagine it was permissible to mistreat a human being, for whatever twisted purpose, once they considered how the tapes might look to a spectator, there was only one conclusion: "it would look like torture. And torture is wrong."

Now who is the spectator? Who was it they believed would come to this conclusion? Surely not the people who had already seen the tapes. Surely not the leaders who had authorized them. (And most likely also saw the tapes, though surely they will deny that.)

So, who is the spectator? I suggest that Mr. Gannon, who spoke those words to a NY Times reporter, is referring to the imaginary spectator we conjure when we consult our conscience. I suggest that Mr. Gannon is referring to how he assumes your ordinary person would condemn the behavior on the tapes as "cruel and unusual," as "punishment" outside the bounds of decent and humane treatment, as a crime, pure and simple. As a war crime. As against the Geneva Conventions. As against US law.
“To a spectator it would look like torture,” he said. “And torture is wrong.”
To a conscience it would look like torture. And torture is wrong. And now we have to face that people who keep calling themselves our "leaders" are nothing of the kind. They lack a conscience. They lack empathy for other humans. And believe themselves above the law. Believe it right to subject someone to torture. Believe someone is guilty without benefit of trial. Refuse to recognize another human being as having worth - because in their mind they have already condemned the person: They have played prosecutor, judge, and jury - to a person deprived of counsel, deprived of any judicial process. A person has been condemned to cruel and inhumane treatment by a state - with mandates to do so coming from the highest levels, including the eventual mandate to "go ahead and do whatever you need to do and don't tell us... so we can pretend ignorance and lie to the public if this ever becomes known."

This whole sordid story is simply getting worse and worse. Now we know, for sure, that the taping was done "for protection," so if the wounded person died in custody, it could be proven they died of their wounds, I suppose. And once they didn't die (of their initial wounds), and the torture was getting worse and worse, they stopped the taping. Likely they simply didn't want to "watch" worse and worse treatment, once waterboarding had been authorized. Likely the inner spectator was triggered to a huge degree for those who did the torturing, knowing that every action was being taped.

This is simply sickening.

There is interesting research that shows how people become more self-conscious when they can see themselves in a mirror. Must be something similar when you're being taped. You're aware a "record" is being made. And, if you think about it, you wonder how a "spectator" might view that record. And even if you have no conscience, no empathy for the fellow human who is totally subject to your treatment, you begin to wonder - how your normal, average human would react, seeing those tapes. You begin to see how your average fundamentalist, seeing the prisoner stripped and mocked and spit upon and worse, might think of Jesus, who said "if you do this to the least of them, you do this to me." And if they thought of Jesus, they might think of other words, "Forgive your enemies. Forgive them and do not hate them." Well, goodness, we can't have that, can we? We'd better stop taping. And stop thinking such thoughts.

I think we are like Dante, approaching the gates of hell:
In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the direct path
How first I enter'd it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh'd
My senses down, when the true path I left
"Abandon hope all ye who enter here"
And like Dante we must descend into hell. We must go where we do not want to go. We must look without flinching at everything that has come to pass. And we must look as a spectator would look. We must see things for what they are. And we must call them what they are. Torture. Interrogation under torture. Imprisonment without Habeas Corpus. Cruel and Unusual Punishment without Trial. Torture applied to helpless prisoners without benefit of any human counsel. People treated as animals and worse. And this has happened on our watch, regardless of our non-consent.

And people who considered themselves leaders must now be brought to accounting. They must be tried. They must be punished. And they can expect better treatment than those they have mistreated - that is the worst of it!


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