The Long Road Back from Torture

The Romans perfected torture of their political prisoners. It didn’t save them.If it’s true that the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem, then last week’s release of the report detailing the CIA’s torturing of prisoners can at least hopefully provide the impetus for Americans to disavow such methods and begin to rein in the out-of-control security state that has grown especially since 9/11.

As Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal—a paper not otherwise known to be soft on the War on Terror:

…America should never again do what is asserted and outlined in the report, which enumerates various incidents of what I believe must honestly be called torture. …

… Torture is not like us. It’s not part of the American DNA. We think of ourselves as better than that because we’ve been better than that.

It is almost childish to say it, yet children sometimes see obvious truths. We can’t use torture methods and still at the same time be the hope of the world. You’re [either] an animal like other animals or you’re something different, something higher, and known to be different and higher.

Especially in this season celebrating the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace who taught us the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” we need to take this opportunity to affirm that these methods are totally unacceptable in the eyes of man and God.

As Americans held the German people accountable for the acts of Hitler, and Iraqis for the policies of Saddam Hussein, we ought not be surprised or think we can escape being damned for torture carried out by our political masters and their henchmen.

We thus, individually and collectively, must stand up and loudly declare, “I would rather die in a country that upholds every human’s inalienable rights than live in a country ‘protected’ by barbarous thugs.”

Shooting the messenger as many commentators seem to think would solve the problem will not unmake the facts: torture is now part of the American culture. The only point to address now is: do you condone torture or do you condemn it? If you condemn it, you must speak up and help eradicate every justification floated for such abuse.

The only way to uncorrupt our culture is to return to our roots and reimmerse ourselves in the principles upon which the kind of culture worth preserving rests: all humans are equally beloved children of God, endowed inalienably and equally with rights which must be respected regardless of circumstance. No ends can justify an unjust means—every means is itself an end.

Christmas provides an excellent starting point: read the life of Jesus. Remember how it ended, in torture and death. Then decide whose example you wish to follow, and do your best to do so.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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