FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thanksgiving Torture

Torture and Thanksgiving are not usually part of the same conversation, but this year the Vice President of the United States’ opposition to an anti-torture statute has put torture on the table right next to the turkey. The resemblance of one turkey to the other is striking, but not because our Puritan forebears approved of both torture and giving thanks to God. Indeed, Puritanism is one important reason why torture is not the legal policy of the United States government.

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Puritans in England were disfavored by monarchs and some were hanged for their beliefs (as were some Catholics). Imprisonment and fines were far more common than death, but torture was sanctioned officially and could accompany imprisonment. If a Puritan coupled criticism of the monarch’s tax policy with Puritan religious beliefs, he was likely to have a nostril slit, or an ear lopped off.

While many Puritans sailed for America to find liberty, most Puritans stayed in England and fought a bloody civil war for religious and political liberty in opposition to the divine right of kings. The discord in England that led to civil war was mirrored, on a much smaller scale, in the American colonies. There were many struggles between royal governors and colonists allied with the kings of England on one side, and those seeking religious, political, and commercial freedom on the other side. Puritans who sought their own religious liberty from the Church of England generally did not provide the same religious liberty to those they governed in England and America.

The tumultuous 17th Century ended with the bloodless replacement of the Stuart monarchy by William and Mary, who agreed to the English Bill of Rights, including the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” The English Bill of Rights was the beginning of the end of torture in England.

Remarkably, colonial officials rarely tortured citizens during the 17th and 18th centuries. The only torture commonly sanctioned by governments in America was to permit, under colonial and state laws, cruel and unusual punishment of African slaves (non-citizens) by their owners. Opposition to torture conducted by the government of the United States is reflected in the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Until now, our law concerning torture had not changed in more than 200 years; not even during our Civil War, when rebellious armies were sometimes within thirty miles of the capitol, was torture made lawful. But opposition by the Vice President to a ban on torture means we now can conclude that the denials of the use of torture are admissions of support for torture from a Commander-in-Chief who claims authority to make law with respect to non-citizens in custody of the armed forces.

There is no circumstance that excuses the official, governmental sanction of the use of torture because it degrades humans and does not stop outlawed behavior. Puritans were not stopped by official torture; instead Puritans, and many non-Puritans, disdained torture and created a nation “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Why give thanks at this time of year? Give thanks for liberty that was not purchased with torture.

BOB SHIRLEY lives in Olympia, Washington, and was recently elected to the school board. He can be reached at: bobandlynne@comcast.net

 

 

More articles by:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail