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Lionel Beehner Headshot

Why Do You Torture Us, Canada?

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Oh Canada. Americans look up to you, both literally and figuratively. But your laid-back-ness and refusal to offend the powers that be in Washington can make us cringe--as it did last week when you redacted the United States from your torture manual.

You know that we Americans love lists, except, of course, when it's a list of countries that torture their inmates and the United States rubs elbows with the likes of Syria and Iran. Shame on you, Canada! It's impolite to lump us with such rogue regimes. (psst, ok, you're probably right, since you and I both know that the United States has at one time tortured its detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or renditioned prisoners to countries and undisclosed "black sites" in Eastern Europe where they are tortured. Your PowerPoint was so spot-on, listing U.S. interrogation techniques, including "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation," as forms of torture--but again, let's keep it between ourselves).

Look at how low we as a country have sunk: Even our neighbors and closest allies cringe at having to include us on their list of rogue states that torture their prisoners. The awkwardness is palpable. Yet reversing course and scrubbing the U.S. from the list only makes the uneasiness more apparent. Americans can't seem to get the world's outrage over torture. Just look at the tortured discussion we've had over the use of waterboarding, something Vice President Dick Cheney once called a "no brainer for him" and our current attorney general refused to condemn. Americans remind me of Daniel Day Lewis' oil-baron character in There Will Be Blood--we want to be spiritually cleansed of all our sins but deep down we are not truly remorseful.

North of the border, Canadian attitudes toward torture are more admirable. Canada has come out strongly against the transfer of detainees over to the Afghan army, where they often face torture (The U.S. has been mostly silent on the issue). The government has been sued by Amnesty International to stop such handovers. Canadian human rights groups have also pressed their center-right government to ask the United States to return the sole Canadian held captive at Guantanamo Bay, something Ottawa has unfortunately refused to do.

Canada must stop sucking up the United States and for once, put us in our place. Pretending the U.S. does not torture because its name is not on a PowerPoint slide is small solace to a Canadian detainee staring into the eyes of a CIA operative standing next to a bucket of water in some undisclosed black site.