Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Conscience and Community, III

Who Is Torturing Whom?

The controversy over the use of torture continues. Interested parties should read the "torture memos," classified documents affirming the use of frightening and painful techniques in the interrogation of individuals captured by US security agencies or military personnel. These memos, written by high-ranking staff in the Bush administration, outline procedures that sound like torture to me. I haven't yet read all the memos, but I have read one written by Jay S. Bybee, in his capacity as an assistant attorney general. Bybee is now a judge on the US Court of Appeal for the Ninth District.

Reading Bybee's memo doesn't bring me much clarity, though I'm pretty sure he shouldn't be sitting as a judge anywhere. I understand from other coverage that Bybee felt uncomfortable about writing the memo. But he didn't refuse to write it, and his protestations clearly come after the fact. Perhaps, he's simply disturbed that he has been publicly associated with systematic torture.

For me, the lack of clarity lies in my own discomfort with the discussion. I draw lots of lines between good and bad, good and evil, in my own life, but those lines do not always guide my own attitudes, or my behavior.

I want my family, my friends, my community, my country to be safe. If there is someone out there who wants to attack the United States, to attack Washington, DC, the city I live in, I want somebody to know about those plans. I do not want to see a recurrence of 9-11.

But the fact remains that there were far more Iraqi deaths in the First Gulf War, which began in 1990, than American deaths from Sept. 11 events. Perhaps, 20 to 40 times as many.

And as many as 1,000,000 more Iraqis may have died as a result of sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first war. "Some researchers say that over a million Iraqis, disproportionately children, died as a result of the sanctions, [13] although other estimates have ranged as low as 170,000 children."

Estimates of Iraqi deaths since the beginning of the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been as high as one million or more. The number of Iraqis displaced by the war and the ensuing occupation has been estimated at more than four million.

There may be as many as 30 million people currently living in Iraq. All told, sanctions, bombings, invasion and occupation may have killed or displaced as much as one-quarter of that number. To have the same effect on the United States, terrorists would have to kill, wound or displace somewhere between 80 million and 90 million people.

No level of terrorist activity, indeed, no hostile action of any type, short of alien invasion, will ever have such an effect on the United States. In fact, climate change is the only earth-based event likely to have that kind of an effect on the US. Perhaps, we should be torturing "climate-change deniers," like George Will, to find out more about possible plots against America.

Nancy Pelosi wants a Truth Commission to identify those responsible for sanctioning the use of torture. But it's obvious, we have all sanctioned torture in some way. That blanket of guilt does not fall on each of us just because we failed to speak out against torture. It falls on us for, among other things, the torture we have visited on Iraq and Iraqis these last 20 years or more.

My idea for an investigation into who did what to whom would be more along the lines of a national self-investigation. Abu Zubaydah may wish that he could deliver the same sort of mayhem to Americans that we have visited upon others, but that's only a dream. Compared to Americans, Zubaydah is a piker.

1 comment:

  1. Jane Meyer's "The Dark Side" is a very detailed account of how and where "we" went wrong in the use of torture as a reaction to 9/11. Its a good read if you can endure the myriad of idiocy.