I think it was just last August that the president said “we tortured some folks…but that is not who we are.” Does that bother anyone? It sure bothers me. George Bush in 2003 said “We don’t torture.” But it looks like we did and, I’m afraid that it does say something about who we are. For all practical reasoning, Dick Cheney says the end (information to keep us safe) justifies the means (torture to get the information that keeps us safe). Meaning we torture to get important information not otherwise gleaned from traditional methods. I remember a line from the New Testament saying about the same thing as Cheney, “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’” (John 11:49-50) But from the report, no information we received from torturing some dude helped the nation from perishing at all. [True, we only killed one guy in one of those “Black Sites” so that the nation would not perish.] But as for information nada, nuthin’. We all know by now that the information about Iraq’s connection with Al Qaeda produced through torture was false and lead us into the tragedy known as the Iraq war resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. But I’m wondering if that is who we think we are, a Jack Bauer-type shooting a bullet through a man’s knee because Jack didn’t like the answer he gave. It seems we tortured people until they gave us answers we liked according to our play book. I really would like to think of us as “awesome” as the Fox commentator Andrea Tantaros put it, “The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome. But we’ve had this discussion. We’ve closed the book on it (torture), and we stopped doing it,” Tantaros said. “The reason they want the discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.” I have to agree with Andrea, the administration wants to talk about torture because sometimes we aren’t awesome and need to own up to it. I think even Dick Cheney may think this is true but cannot fess up to it because this 5 time draft deferred person during the Vietnam era would have to admit he is not awesome. We all know that Dick is awesome. He has said as much himself and Dick is always truthful.
Granted after 9/11 it was a time of desperation and fear over another imminent attack. However, when desperate people make desperate decisions then often those decisions may be contrary to “who we are.” We spent 81 million on two guys to develop a system to near-drown information out of captives, guilty or not (26 were innocent). They took the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques that are used to help U.S. personnel fight torture and reversed engineered them to use on captured “terror” subjects. If the end justifies the means in Dick’s words, then we didn’t get much for our 81 million bucks. Most of the usable information was obtained in traditional Q&A. So how “awesome” are we when we have those pesky Geneva Conventions we signed on to support and that United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” we said “aye” to as well as that phrase in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution about “cruel and unusual punishment” staring at us in the face and choose to ignore them because we are “desperate.” Do these documents mean anything anymore? Sometimes I think our “awesome” flag is getting in the way of our collective mirror so we can no longer see “who we are.” Never again. This is not a pro or con issue. This is not a “yes, but…” discussion nor is it, “Well they do even worse….” debate. When the Chinese do it, it’s a war crime. When the Nazi’s do it, it’s a war crime. When we do it, it’s “not who we are.” Yeah, I don’t get it either. Personally I would like to have our 81 million back.
And since we are talking about awsomeness and truth, this Third Sunday in Advent is all about the goodness that is to come if we are honest about our search for the truth. The first reading this Sunday from the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians Paul writes:
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil. (1 Thes 5:ff)
It kinda of says it all there. “Test everything” seems to me to be a call to question authority to find out the truth. Listen and the truth will be found even though the truth is uncomfortable. Even the quiet sometimes annoying voices bear the truth. It takes practice to listen. If we are stuck completely on one ideology from one cable news network we can miss the forest. A search for the truth can take us miles off what we think is the right course so we may have a better perspective. Going off course can be sometimes anxious but it is a necessary part of life. Even though I may sound like I have the truth, I don’t. I am a searcher like you. I believe stuff to be true but I am never quite sure until I “test” it. Find out for myself and own it. That’s why I feel this discussion about torture should not be a debate. There is no debate. Torture is “not who we are.” Torture is “evil.”
The Gospel reading for today comes from John who quotes Jesus’ cuz John the Baptist:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” (Jn 1:19-28)
That is pretty straightforward. From the desert of uncertainty comes truth and whatever that means to you. From an unlikely source like the crazy looking John the Baptist are we challenged to “test” the truth. That’s awesome. That’s who we are, isn’t it?
and so it goes…