On Torture: Crossing Party Lines

We have seen over time, that humans are capable of the best and the worst. Nobody heals unless there is truth about what happened. We have a chance to open this book, and I hope we take it.
12/10/2014 01:07 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

This business of torture has lasted a long time, in terms of the U.S. activities with detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan. And from ethical and humanitarian points of view, torture has been antithetical to those of us following the news, reading The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, witnessing the fierce debate led by Stephen Soldz, about the right (or not) of psychologists to assist in interrogation processes. It has been depressing, enraging, frustrating -- also to see how little this issue has been on our radar. A propos of our ambivalence about whistleblowers, we watched the truth teller about Abu Ghraib have his life threatened and move to a witness protection program with little national attention or protest.

Now the reports are out, that in fact yes, there was terrible torture that was less the exception and more the rule than we were told. But the nay sayers are also out in force. It was necessary, says Dick Cheney, who is probably still saying it was necessary to lie to the American people about weapons of mass destruction, to insist they were there when they weren't.

But my point here is another one. It is asking a question about whether in our country there is any real point of discussion on this matter. Yes there are people who adore America and abhor any criticism of our country. But they miss some key issues that merit attention. One is that the world is watching us, not only for what we do, but for how we deal with what we have done when it is our turn to apologize. Germany has received amazing respect for its diligence and integrity in dealing honestly with the Holocaust on multiple levels, allowing research and discussion and outrage inside and out. Denying this--denying torture--doesn't make it go away, on the contrary. It only makes the world that suffered at our hands and lost respect for us, disrespect us more.

We -- many in this nation -- preach honesty, integrity and democracy. There can be none of the latter without an educated public and without ways to discuss our differences and our own errors. Never learning to apologize puts us on the level of dictatorships where everything must be spun to glorify the leadership or the land itself.

We set examples and provoke violence not only by the violence of our actions, but our refusal heretofore, to admit to these actions, and in some way--actually and psychologically--to rectify them, to at least make sure they will never happen again.

Much of the world where we have committed torture has felt America's demeaning attitude, and I personally have wondered about the racial component as well: the people tortured have tended to be darker than us, not White in other words. And while some people in the Middle East have wanted the death and destruction of Americans and America, there are many who have felt it is we who have come to rid the world of them. We need to look at this, at whether it is true. We are not the only innocents, and rarely is any one party completely pure.

There is another myth that was propagated, and still is, and yes by Dick Cheney as well. That is that the "enhanced" interrogations, aka torture, was necessary. It was not, and it has been proven that when you humiliate the foundation of someone's human existence, that breeds shame and shock and ultimately futility or revenge.

This discussion, by the way, is not about being a Republican or Democrat. True, perhaps my being the latter might make me "softer" on punishment, but being a human being looking for as much truth as I can handle and trying to handle more each day, makes me also want to know what methods might be necessary under certain conditions.

The most Conservative of our country are often the strictest with their own children, the most interrupting of unethical behavior, the most fierce about ethical values being taught, to my taste and from a developmental point of view too often too dramatically. However, there is an issue of patriotism here as well. No parent who is fierce about ethics would deny loving their child in light of their interrupting bad behavior. And yet we've developed the propaganda to the effect that interrupting the bad behavior of our nation, of our banks, of our politicians and our citizens, is all done for a lack of love or respect or caring or intelligence.

I have had this notion for a long time, that nobody much likes being played for a fool. Therefore it might be a good idea to let ourselves know that much of the world already knows about U.S. torture, which would mean we have nothing to lose by greeting the investigation's results with respect. And -- also with remorse, and regret, and maybe even the conviction that we as Americans do not have to stoop as low as Dick Cheney and company.

When I first started reading about the misadventures of Edward Snowden I was surprised to hear that several of the employees of the NSA who worried about the constitutionality of their supposed assignments, were in fact Republican. Call me naive, or even prejudiced, and I think you'd be right on both counts. Republicans care about ethics, okay who knows if as much as Democrats, but jousting aside, this is no time for partisanship, at least in my book.

Torture was done and it is a stain, never to be erased or learned from if it is not processed, or admitted, so the Americans too who participated in orgies of adrenalin rising, can come out of their closets as well, and let us know how that happened to them.

We have seen over time, that humans are capable of the best and the worst. Nobody heals unless there is truth about what happened. We have a chance to open this book, and I hope we take it.