Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame

The words are from Bourbon, in Shakespeare's Henry V, talking about the impending loss by the French to the English at the battle of Agincourt.  I don't think there was eternal shame in losing the battle, certainly not in being a character that talks about losing the battle.

But there may be eternal shame, nothing but shame, in the way the US government has tortured captives.

Here's the BBC page on the report.

Here's a floor statement from John McCain, someone I rarely agree with politically.  McCain says,
I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.
I think McCain's right here: the practices amounted to torture, and were shameful.

Unlike McCain, I think "unnecessary" really isn't the point.  I don't think we can excuse the US government's use of torture even if we assert that the US gained a single bit of useful information.  Torture is wrong, and we were wrong to use it.

Here's a bit more from McCain:
“But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.
I'm ashamed because I haven't done something to stop the torture.  I still don't know what I could have done, but I'm ashamed that I've done nothing.

And I'm ashamed that I've done nothing to insist that the US government not hold prisoners without charging them or giving them a fair trial.  We've all known about Guantanamo and the torture for years.  Let's not lie to ourselves or anyone else about "not knowing."

These values are central to the US Constitution, as central as values of free speech and freedom from governmental establishment of religion.  Just to remind ourselves:

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.
My question is, to avoid shame and eternal shame, what can I, a citizen of these United States, do to stop the government and its agents from torturing and illegally holding prisoners, depriving them of liberty, without charges or a fair, public trial?

We, the people of the United States, have allowed the government and its agents to act illegally for far, far too long, to our shame and eternal shame.  What can we do to make change?

1 comment:

  1. Really good question. What on earth can we do? It really is so shameful. When I heard reports today on NPR, I had such a terrible sinking feeling.