Friday, June 1, 2007

Torture & Soul Death

What does the willingness to condone torture in the name of "national security" do to the soul of a nation? What is a torture-tolerant culture's state of moral health? These are the fundamental questions this blog seeks to explore.

The question is inspired by Dick McSorley, a longtime Jesuit peace activist who asked the same thing about our nation's willingness to build nuclear weapons. McSorley contended that building weapons of mass destruction whose purpose is to kill enormous numbers of human beings and destroy miles of infrastructure is in and of itself a wicked act. It makes little difference if the government building them insists that their purpose is to "act as deterrents," swears that they're necessary for national security, or promises that they'll never be used in a "first strike" capacity. Given their indiscriminately murderous nature, their very existence is evil, and the nation which not only tolerates but insists on having them has failed a fundamental moral test.
Today, the moral test is a nation's willingness to tolerate torture--the deliberate infliction of physical and psychological pain on other human beings in order to degrade, humiliate, and coerce information from them or to break their spirit so that they'll no longer pose a threat. Torture is practiced in over 15o countries, including the United States.
It won't do for citizens of countries that practice torture to take an "it's my government doing it, not me!" approach. If we know that our government tortures and we don't publicly condemn it, our hands are dirty. When it comes to torture, no bystander is innocent. And if we know that our government tortures, and we sanction the torture because we think it somehow makes us safer, our hands are more than just dirty. We become outright accomplices. We become thugs.
How to understand our willingness to condone and even embrace torture? How to grasp our willingness to participate in such evil? Beginning today, the first day of Torture Awareness Month, this blog, which takes its name from Ariel Dorfman's play about torture, will grapple with these and similar questions.