Sure it's a bit long, but I'm angry....
Our nation is losing its soul. In Abu Ghraib, in Bagram, at Guantanamo, on unmarked Learjets bound for Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, we make the terrorists' case for them. We are angry and afraid and so we have become complicit in our own undoing.
"A few bad apples." If the army or the President didn't want prisoners abused, how hard would it be to unequivocally communicate this desire to each and every soldier. They train these young men and women to risk their very lives, and yet they would have us believe that they can't convince them not to beat and torture other human beings. If they did not want it to happen, it would not happen. "We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It's that simple. Are we clear?" "Yes, sir." "ARE WE CLEAR?" "Crystal."
(If you truly want to know if this is just a "few bad apples" instead of de facto administration policy, ask yourself why this administration is so adamant about keeping any amendment that would prohibit torture out of the defense appropriations bill.)
Torture apologists like to think of themselves as hardened realists, tough guys with the courage to do what it takes. War is hell and all that. Me, apparently I just don't have the stomach to do what needs to be done. But, in fact, they are cowards, the worst kind of cowards - frightened and angry and willing to hurt anyone to get back to a place where they don't have to be afraid anymore. They are not only weak, they are immoral. It takes no courage to dehumanize your enemy. It takes no strength of character to beat and abuse another human being. In fact it requires a profound moral weakness. And to let others do it for us, well that is beyond cowardly and despicable.
Ultimately torture is not about breaking someone physically, and so the physical damage is only an attendant measure of the level of brutality. Torture is designed to break your spirit, to crack your mind, to destroy who you are, to terrify and isolate. The physical damage can sometimes heal, but the mental damage is permanent. So when the apologists cry out that such and such a method is not nearly as (physically) brutal as a beheading or whatever else, and so it is okay, they spectacularly miss the point. Physical damage is not the measure, although it is the thing that most gets our attention. Rape is a physical crime, but its effects in terms of physical damage are, in most cases, minor. The true damage is emotional because it attacks the victim's sense of trust and safety and security. It instills fear and isolates the victim. So torture apologists, is rape an acceptable interrogation method? The question may seem ridiculous (if you haven't been paying attention), but what is the measure of what is allowable and what is not? If it is physical harm then you must consider rape to be an acceptable interrogation method.
"What harm is there in a little humiliation, a little degradation," the apologists ask? After all these things aren't really torture, they're more like "fraternity pranks." (Hmmm, fraternities and rape, that rings a bell.) Understand that these methods are specifically designed to assault the prisoner's very concept of who they are, to shame them in front of their god, to make them unclean and unworthy in the eyes of their family, their society and their god, to isolate them and break them down. If they were not deliberate and effective attacks on the prisoner's psychological stability, they would have no value as interrogation tactics. You cannot look at a particular incident or method in isolation, you must consider the intent and the impact of the entire process. These tactics are designed to mentally and emotionally stress prisoners to the breaking point and are therefore, torture, regardless of the relative "benevolence" of the tactics.
"The things they do are far worse than anything we've ever done," they say. Almost universally this is true. The terrorist are for more brutal physically. But that's why they are "terrorists" and we are not. Do we get bonus points for not behaving as heinously as the terrorists. Is that the standard? As long as we don't webcast beheadings we're okay? Shouldn't our goal be to remain exactly ourselves and not become even a little bit more like the terrorists? To be as different as possible, so that the difference is clear and compelling as it can be. That is the real war - the internal battle to not lessen ourselves or our nation. Their brutality undermines their cause in the eyes of the world. Ours undermines our principles, our values and our humanity.
These "tactics" are also wrong because of what they do to us, as individuals, as friends and families and neighbors of those who participate, as a nation, as a part of a community of nations, as human beings. We demean ourselves, we irreparably damage our soldiers, we spit on our history, we undermine our nation and our principles with these tactics, we lower our place in the world. The terrorists can certainly kill us - they have and they will again - but their ultimate goal is for us to destroy ourselves. And through our rage and fear and our desire for revenge, we oblige them.
History teaches us that man is capable of infinite brutality, but it also teaches us that brutality corrupts the brutalizer as completely as it destroys the victim. If you can stand by and watch such things, or worse yet, participate, then you lose a large piece of your humanity. And you cannot get it back. And when these people return, they will infect our communities. They will become isolated and detached, unable to reconcile what they've done with who they thought they were... and over time we will reap what we have sown. To kill another man in battle is hard enough, but to abuse and humiliate a man who is chained and defenseless, who is begging you to stop, that requires moral comprises of a magnitude that your conscience cannot survive intact. You need not believe me, just look at all the psychological casualties of this and every other war. Take warning from their nightmares.
Many argue that if only the torture apologists could experience what the victims experience they would change their minds. But that is wrong, because these people could never imagine themselves in the place of these prisoners. They do not see them as human. If you want to force these apologists to confront their false bravado, send them to Abu Ghraib and let them participate in a few "interrogations." Let them debase themselves and compromise their values and then come back home, and without shame or regret, explain what they did there to their wives and their children and their neighbors. Let them try to leave that inhuman part of themselves back at Abu Ghraib and keep it from escaping and poisoning their lives back home. I suppose there exist people who would not be changed by the experience, but then they are already compromised.
And finally, a word about God. If you claim to believe in God and you have found a way in your heart and mind to justify these actions of abuse and humiliation, of degradation, of dehumanization, then you do not understand what it means to believe in God. And you can be sure that God knows it.