Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Torture for Interests: The Denial of Human Dignity

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007   No comments

By A. E. SOUAIAIA (05/2007)

Recently, as I sat to dinner with several people, and during a moment of uncensored honesty encouraged by the intimate environment, one of these people, a middle class middle-aged lady who counts herself as a humanitarian liberal, made the most disturbing comment; a comment that reflects the attitude of the majority of American voters these days. As we discussed the senseless murder of innocent people at Virginia Tech and Iraq and the plight of the poor in Africa and Louisiana, she almost “killed” the conversation by saying something along these lines… there are too many people in this world and not everyone can be rich or have a great life… if people are not dying in Iraq, they could be dying elsewhere, may be here in our cities… there will always be rich and poor people in this world.

Those words mirrored other declarations by the leader of American conservatives, George W. Bush, who repeated on many occasions (and on the campaign trail during the 2004 presidential elections) equally disturbing supremacist ideas. Justifying his invasion of Iraq, he argued that if we don’t fight them in their backyard, we will be forced to fight them in our cities. In order to sell his immigration policy, he also declared that America must find a way to allow these “aliens” to do the kind of work that Americans don’t want to do.

And more recently, I heard George Tenet, the former boss of the CIA who is now promoting his book, refusing to use the word “torture” to describe the US treatment of some detainees and to defend the practice because “it saved lives.” When asked to comment on this argument, John McCain, the Senator from Arizona and hopeful 2008 presidential candidate, disagreed because “it [torture] doesn’t work.”

Sadly, these attitudes explain America’s apathy to inhumane practices if they are told or made to believe that their interests are at risk. We may never live in a world where everyone is rich, but we don’t have to live in a world where a minority is filthy rich and a majority is living in the filth of poverty.

The above comments show that American domestic and foreign policies are not manipulated by few power-hungry politicians; rather, it is expressive of deep-seeded egotism that blind most voters from seeing the inviolable dignity of every human being. In a democratic system where people elect their leaders, these leaders necessarily reflect the ethos, mores and values of their electors. If American politicians and policy-makers legitimize and practice torture, it is because a majority of Americans allow it to happen and those who disagree cannot articulate a convincing position against torture. McCain’s argument is widely used by opponents of torture, but it is very weak, counterproductive, and inaccurate.

The statement that “torture does not work” is inaccurate because torture “does work” and the evidence is overwhelming and that is why it has been used by governments, monarchs and other social control institutions since the emergence of the first of human civilization. From biblical times until modern era, rulers and control freaks used torture to achieve what they wanted and in many instances they succeeded. In South America and in the Arab world, dictatorial regimes lasted and some continue to govern thanks to their brutality that featured the most cruel and inhumane aspects of torturing dissidents.

The statement that torture is bad because it does not work is counterproductive because if the proponents of torture manage to show that “it did work” and “saved many lives” as claimed by Tenet and others, then those who oppose torture on the ground that “it does not work” will be proven wrong and thereby justifying torture in the eyes of all.

The statement that “torture is bad because it does not work” is a weak argument because it appeals to one’s concern for her or his personal interests instead of appealing to one’s sense of fairness justice and belief in the sanctity of human dignity. People should not oppose torture because it is an ineffective tool that does not produce results and that tarnishes “American image” in the eyes of the world; rather, people should oppose torture because it is a violation of human dignity which is the essence of and common link to human beings. Human dignity is the universal quality that is not qualified or forfeited by the color, gender, nationality, behavior, class, religion, sanity, or behavior of the human body in which it is vested. Society may have the right to impose some restrictions on the body of the human being who violates its laws, but society cannot and should not violate the endowed dignity inhabiting that body. In other words, society may control the vessel but society has no right over the dignity contained in that vessel.

Torture is unacceptable not because it is not effective in stopping lunatics and terrorists; rather, because our respect to human dignity outweigh and override our outrage over the acts of lunatics. Otherwise, we become them, we act like them, and we give credence to their ways.

It is undeniably the case, that the world community’s commitment to human dignity is tested in the most profound way. In the end, however, the victorious society will be the one that does not sell out in its commitment to respecting and protecting human dignity. Unfortunately, in the US, the patriotic zeal is being transformed into latent racism that places the interests of Americans above the interests of all other peoples. The blood spilled in the streets of Baghdad is seen by many as a necessary sacrifice for the security of the citizens of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles; we are made to feel the grief for the fallen only after his or her ID card is checked; we export chaos elsewhere in order to keep order in our streets; and we dump surplus grains in the oceans and we pay farmers to stop cultivating fields (through government programs) to keep the hungry begging and selling their dignity in order to “buy” sustenance.

It is wrong to think that some people are created to do certain jobs that others find beneath their dignity. It is wrong to think that some people’s security justifies the chaos inflicted on others. It is wrong to think that torture and other inhumane practices can be justified if such practices bring results. It is wrong, because no race, no nationality, no, ethnic group, no class of people have an exclusive monopoly on life with dignity.

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