Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Ways of Thinking: “Be the change you want to see in the world”

Journalist Mark Danner’s US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites, an article based on an International Committee of the Red Cross report leak obtained by him on the treatment of fourteen "high value detainees" in CIA custody, puts light on torture legitimized by the United States of America under the Bush Administration.

Out of fear, America wages war, allows torture, allows violations of our laws and our values, and we allow the President of the United States and others to circumvent the fundamental tenets of our U.S. Constitution. To act out in anger, out of fear, is not a courageous act; it’s a cowardly act and a sign of weakness. To act out in hate and anger, because of fear, is a serious flaw in our personal and national character. On the other hand, fear is a natural and necessary human response, but when it is not an understood controlled behavior it becomes a determent by not acting at all, or it’s a determent when we do not act in an appropriate way, so, instead of fear being a warning to use caution -- a heads-up -- our behavior turns to anger and hate.

Because of our fears, instead of being outraged that a violation of our American values have taken place, it has become apparent that Americans will allow human life to be violated, allow violations against the sanctity of life, and will tolerate crimes against humanity and the civil liberties of others including our own. We allow the torture of another human, and look for ways of excusing ourselves from that fact by a redefinition of something that does not need redefinition, and by putting torture in the context of complex legal definitions. We redefine and put in legalese the sin of torture as aggressive interrogation technique, or extraordinary rendition to obfuscate or make oblique -- words that cloud what is really taking place -- the torture, or handing-off of a human being to another state to be tortured on our behalf.

Disturbing as it is, the Stanley Milgram experiments of close to fifty years ago, and the more recent study by Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University in California, have shown that most of us would torture others if ordered to do so. These studies reveal that most people would obediently deliver painful electrical shocks to others if encouraged to do so by someone in authority, even if it conflicted with their personal conscience. We therefore must reject any directive, by anyone, until we take the time to logically consider and critically think-through the mandates of people in authority or those in charge, or anyone else, no matter who they are – even if it is the President of the United States. We must always heed our personal and collective conscience.

These were abhorrent, deplorable actions that the United States of America took and should not be ignored. What our President, Vice President, Secretaries of Defense and of State, Congress, and some Americans sanctioned were unacceptable violations of the Geneva Convention. They constituted a form of sabotage on America of which if it had continued under our new Administration would ruin America and that, up until Bush’s presidency, the core values of which she stood -- and by the way to an extent already have done great damage. America violated national and international law, America has put Americans at risk in the event of their capture, and America failed to provide fundamental human decency to those who, enemy combatants or not, were in our custody and therefore we were responsible for their safety and care. The Bush Administration, Congress, and every American who did not take action, or at the very least did not speak out against these policies, should be chastised through public hearings with ensuing investigations, and those who could be measured as having violated national or international law should be pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent that those laws provide.
How can America with any credibility be critical of others of their policies on civil liberty and human rights when America’s own civil rights and human rights record are so vile. When we simply overlook them, and move on. When we claim to be a nation of laws and yet be example prove the contrary.

It is morally reprehensible that the United States of America has allowed this to happen.

Obama’a response has been not to look backward, but in "looking forward" rather than "looking backwards." In general I do agree, however, if someone commits murder should we not look back at what occurred and take action to protect others by investigating the crime, and prosecuting those responsible? Of course we should. Obama’s response is disappointing, it’s political, and in itself demoralizing.

I have lived a long life, and what I have learned is that in so many ways, even in the face of so many good things America has achieved, what has been preached by Americans regarding American core values have been lies. Those American lies have made a Laughing-stock out of our Constitution.

Let’s make a change, and as Americans let’s represent the values America has preached and of which it wishes to embody. Americans need to, as Mahatma Gandhi so eloquently stated, “be the change you [they] want to see in [America and] the world.”