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Torture Is Exactly Who We Are

I could not read the names without weeping—a list of the tortured detainees. I stared at each name, lingering, imagining, feeling. I thought of the euphemism, enhanced interrogation, like collateral damage, a manipulation of words to mitigate the depravity by making the unacceptable sound less repugnant.

Torture by any other name is still torture.

Defending the CIA’s violations, former CIA Director Michael Hayden said this really wasn’t legally torture, but “we knew as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings.” Really? Did they, the supporters of state-sponsored horror, consider, even for a second, that the detainees were human beings?

Barack Obama said that post-9/11 torture is contrary to who we are. He’s wrong. It is exactly who we are.

Dick Cheney said the torture was “absolutely, totally justified,” dismissing allegations that the CIA withheld information from the White House. The torture program was Bush and Cheney’s new toy, and they were spectators to pain.

Bush defended the CIA: “They are good people. These are patriots.”

“It’s incumbent upon a democracy in terms of our values that we represent to the world that when we have bad moments, we hold ourselves accountable,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill.

This was not a mere “bad moment”, a minor misjudgment. It was calculated, designed, and approved by top officials.

Sen. Diane Feinstein said she hoped the public would view the report in the “spirit of a just society [that] functions under law, and that when we make mistakes we admit them, we correct them, and we move on.” Feinstein continued: “I think that’s an important thing.”

Does Feinstein really believe our society is “just” and “functions under law”? How could she? But therein lies the huge obstacle towards justice. Her saying that admitting mistakes allows us to “move on” is the babble of someone who’s read the jacket of a self-help book, unless “correct them” means holding them responsible in a court of law—exactly what she opposes, since too many of her cronies are complicit.

The Bush/Cheney administration’s chamber of horrors is an extension of the greed, opportunism, and violence that pervade our system. Yielding nothing in terms of intelligence and security and, in fact, counterproductive, it was sport for officials at the top of that particular food chain. Even if it had provided information, it still would be wrong, illegal, morally reprehensible.

Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, the two psychologists who formed a business and developed the theories of interrogation based on “learned helplessness,” are former military officers. They were paid $80 million for their vision. Arrest them.

Arrest them all. Hold criminally accountable the Bush/Cheney administration, the people who sanctioned torture, the participants, and those who stood by with silent approval.

Further, when anyone argues that the release of the report hurts American interests or America’s reputation, we must conclude that fear and denial have descended. Even though the hideous torture techniques were no secret. For instance, Lindsay Graham, easily aroused by war rhetoric, said, “Don’t release it now because the world is on fire.” I thought he liked the flames, conflagrations ignited and fanned by the USA. Graham’s concern must be the possibility of repercussions, a stained legacy.

While ignoring abuses within our own borders, the US accuses other countries of human rights violations using these as a pretext for invasion or regime change. We pretend to spread democracy without nurturing it at home. Exceptional doesn’t describe us. Those who believe in American exceptionalism are the men and women in positions of influence who wear a flag pin and the flag-waving, my-country-never-wrong nationalists who scream “USA! USA! USA!” in a crass display of arrogance. As fascism kudzu vines our lives.

Torture defines us. Torture is a Kill List. Torture is a drone. Torture is war. Torture is incinerating men, women, and children to obtain coveted resources. Torture is turning other countries into wastelands with weapons that remain in the water, the soil, air, the DNA.

Torture is sending our young to die for lies, a uniform embellished with ribbons and metal medals, a Purple Heart, broken hearts, burial in a national cemetery. Torture is the loved one who returns from war a double or quadruple amputee, with PTSD, with a traumatic brain injury.

Torture is so far away we don’t know the dead, the maimed, their names. But torture is also nearby, where we do: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Darrien Hunt, Michael Brown, so many more. Torture is the growing number of homeless children, hungry children.

Torture is a militarized police force, organized to enervate, to mute us, to render us voiceless when conscienceless minds conceive and perpetrate egregious acts that are committed in our names.

Torture is exactly who we are—unless we prove otherwise. We can’t just demand justice though. We also must follow it to completion, prosecute the criminals, end war, close our military bases. This includes the wars in our own neighborhoods, towns, and cities, anything that separates us from our humanity.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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