FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thanksgiving Torture

by BOB SHIRLEY

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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail