I must shed the tears that I have been holding back for seven years. It was 1 a.m. on April 29, 2004, and I could not sleep. The beacon that I had always looked up to had gone dark.
I had just heard about Abu Ghraib. It shook my faith in my country's ability to uphold its values. Admittedly, it takes the strongest of the strong to face the evil that we were facing, and the highest of morality to face it without losing one's own morality. But now, even America, the mightiest of the mighty, the champion of human rights, the unquestioned upholder of morality, had blinked in the face of evil. The terror had seized us. Faced with evil, we had abandoned our own values.
The Icon had fallen.
I still nurtured some hope. Maybe it was not an official policy but few individual intelligence officers who in their genuine patriotic feeling, with our interest in their heart, took steps that they sincerely thought were warranted in protecting our nation. With that notion, the tears that had formed in my eyes that night had held back.
That illusion has now been dispelled. In his recently released book, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir," former Vice President Dick Cheney argues that torture, or enhanced interrogation tactics, is not only justifiable, but essential in gathering intelligence information to protect our nation. We now have an official stamp of approval of torture from the former Vice President himself.
There are many arguments on how torture is ineffective and counterproductive as an intelligence tool. It may lead to enormous loss of resources, limb and life. For example, unreliable information obtained through torture played a role in launching the Iraq War. It alienates supporters who would otherwise help us track evil. It exposes U.S. citizens to the danger of torture. It provides recruiting tool to the terrorists. And it dehumanizes both the tortured and the torturer.
In addition, after carefully weighing arguments for and against torture, America has already proclaimed its opposition to torture by ratifying and signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which is supported by 149 countries. In fact, while doing so, the U.S. Government emphasized that "No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture." We must honor this commitment. Otherwise, signatures of the U.S. Government on international treaties, and their ratification by our lawmakers lose credibility.
Additionally, with all the precautions and care we may take, it is impossible to ensure that innocent persons would not be tortured. Even with a meticulously structured justice system, innocent persons are often wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project alone, one of many such organizations in the U.S., has secured freedom for 273 wrongfully convicted innocent persons in the U.S. since 2000. Of these, 17 had been given capital punishment, which requires a unanimous verdict from the jury, and had spent an average of 11 years each on the death row before being exonerated. In a similar way, even when we intend to torture only the guilty, which in itself is indefensible, it is impossible to avoid torturing innocent persons in the process.
In fact, innocent relatives of fugitives, including children, are often deliberately tortured. This is done with the hope that the fugitive might surrender to save his child, wife or old parents from torture. We recently condemned the severe torture of 13-year-old Hamza Al-Khatib by Syrian forces. Even much younger children, including infants, do not escape torture. Such torture is often so gruesome that it cannot be described in responsible media.
Obviously, many countries commit torture on a far greater scale than us. Unfortunately, however, our justification of torture takes away our moral authority to persuade others to refrain from it. Furthermore, having forsaken our moral principles under one scenario, it is not farfetched to envision scenarios under which we ourselves would consider it righteous to torture an innocent child. Is there an age at which we would stop? If yes, what would it be? Who would decide that? And on what basis?
Like many, I often wonder about what distinguishes humans from animals. Occasionally, my thoughts wander into uncomfortable territory. Animals generally do not kill others out of hatred or for pleasure. They do not take hostages. And animals never torture others. It is unfortunate that such behaviors, which we would sorely like to disown, are actually uniquely human.
Such demonization of God's most exalted creation is morally unacceptable. Many religions believe in a compassionate God, and that all humans are children of God. When most of us would shudder just thinking about our child being tortured, how can we justify the brutalization of God's sons and daughters? In doing so, we assume that the evil we face is greater than the mercy of God. I would think that even those who do not believe in God, but otherwise profess high morality, would not endorse torture. As the National Religious Campaign Against Torture has emphasized, "torture is always immoral and can never be justified under any circumstances."
Until countries like America and the world religious leaders break their silence, and themselves have the moral authority to be effective, countless men, women and children across the world will keep suffering from torture.
May I beseech the guardians of various religions at the highest level to lend their voice to those whose voices do not escape prison walls. Our faiths do not condone our silence in the face of such brutalization of other human beings.
May I also beseech all of us to argue for saving the Icon that is America -- for ensuring "liberty and justice for all."
May I encourage the reader to lend ink to the issue. In this column, in this publication, and in other publications. Remind the world of human values and morality. Flood the consciousness of the world with Godly love and compassion.
We can stare evil in the face, or blink. The choice is ours.
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