Comparing Abortion And Torture

A Pro-Life Democrat wrestles with morality:

The wedge that separated me from Bush and, subsequently, the Republican party, was human rights. As a human being–and certainly as a Christian–I could not abide the embrace of torture that has become so essential to the Right. And as a person well-acquainted with the fundamental lessons of science fiction (one of the best advocates of the value of the rule of law) I could not abide the deliberate subversion and destruction of our legal rights. But–two people I know–have demanded: isn’t murder worse than torture? And even if torture leads to murder in some instances, how can the numbers compare to the number of aborted nascent human beings? How can a person who believes that abortion is murder (I do) claim to vote for pro-choice politicians in the name of human rights? […]

I believe, after all, that wrong-doing requires intention. Killing someone accidentally is a fault, but not the same wrong as killing someone accidentally. Is it different, then, for a woman who does not believe she is killing a human being to abort a nascent child than for a soldier to torture someone? I think it is. Dramatically so. Many women believe they are acting out of compassion (however mistakenly); is it possible for a torturer to hold similar beliefs? To put it poetically: how blackened are the souls of all involved in torture? How blackened are the souls of all involved in abortion?

I think torture is the most manifestly destructive to all human goodness, because it is less possible to commit the crime through simple error. It requires significant subversion of a person’s humanity to make him into a torturer (even if it is frighteningly easy to do), whereas it requires significant attention to specific arguments to convince someone of the evil of abortion. As such, I think we need to pay greater attention to obliterating all instances of torture than to obliterating instances of abortion.

The Torture President

Bush is now proudly, openly, brazenly a pro-torture leader:

To support Bush’s veto, you essentially have to reach two conclusions. First, you must think torture is morally and legally acceptable in prescribed circumstances. Assuming you do, though, that’s not enough. It’s necessary but not sufficient. To support Bush’s position, you must also think that the federal government is capable of exercising this awesome power in a responsible way. I’ve heard a lot of arguments justifying Conclusion #1, but virtually nothing to justify Conclusion #2 (other than "trust us"). Indeed, most of the arguments we hear from the pro-torture side – ticking time bombs, evilness – are only relevant to the former.

There was a time when conservatives were leery of handing the executive unchecked power to use against individuals it could both seize and detain indefinitely. Some conservatives maintain that skepticism toward government power. The rest … well, they’re Republicans.

The Cowardice Of Cable News

Scott Horton analyzes media self-censorship on torture:

I discovered that when I gave interviews to major media on this subject, any time I used the word “torture” with reference to these techniques, the interview passage would not be used. At one point I was informed by a cable news network that “we put this on international, because we can’t use that word on the domestic feed.” “That word” was torture.

I was coached or told that the words “coercive interrogation technique” were fine, but “torture” was a red light. Why? The Administration objected vehemently to the use of this word. After all, President Bush has gone before the cameras and stated more than three dozen times “We do not torture.” By using the T-word, I was told, I was challenging the honesty of the president. You just couldn’t do that. […]

Whereas before, torture was the “tool of the enemy,” now torture is the tool of Jack Bauer. Its use is a heroic act of defiance, often of petty bureaucratic limitations, or of conceited liberals whose personal conscience means more to them than the safety of their fellow citizens. While Bauer is presented as an ultimate heroic figure (and also a figure with some heroic flaws), those who challenge use of the rough stuff are naïve, and their presence and involvement in the national security process is threatening. We see a liberal who defends a Middle Eastern neighbor then under suspicion, and who winds up being killed because the neighbor is in fact a terrorist.

We’re looking at a Hollywood specialty: a “reality” show which is divorced from reality. It grossly simplifies necessarily complex facts, and it pares away critical factors which a responsible citizen should be thinking about. But more importantly, perhaps, it is a head-on attack on morality and ethics. The critics of torture are shallow figures, self-serving politicians—vain, arrogant, indifferent to the harm they are doing to society. But in fact the arguments against torture are profound and informed by centuries of human experience and religious doctrine. Torture has in the course of the last two hundred years emerged as an intrinsic evil in Christian teaching; the teaching of most churches—protestant, Catholic, Evangelical—rejects the idea that a state can ever legitimately employ torture. […]

We should start with a frank question: has “24” been created with an overtly political agenda, namely, to create a more receptive public audience for the Bush Administration’s torture policies? I think the answer to that question is now very clear. The answer is “yes.” In “Whatever It Takes,” Jane Mayer has waded through the sheaf of contacts between the show’s producer, Joel Surnow, and Vice President Cheney and figures right around him. There is little ambiguity about this point, namely, if the torture system introduced after 9/11 can be traced back to a single person, it is Vice President Cheney. He pushed relentlessly for use of the tools of the “dark side,” and he ruthlessly took out everyone who stood in his way. He also worked feverishly to disguise or cloak his intimate involvement in the entire process. I take it as a given that Surnow is working to develop public attitudes which are more accepting of torture; to overturn centuries-old prejudices against torture. He is a torture-enabler.

Torture Doesn’t Work

A helpful historical analogy:

There is a perception that democracy makes us weak and only “real men” know how to do this stuff. People think torture worked for the Gestapo, for example. It didn’t. What made the Gestapo so scarily efficient was its dependence on public cooperation. Informers betrayed the resistance repeatedly in Europe, and everyone knew this, but it was more convenient to say the Gestapo got the truth by beating it out of us. Public cooperation is the best way to gather information. After the failed bomb attacks in London in 2005, the British police found every one of the gang within a week. One was caught after his parents turned him in. They would not have done that if they’d thought he’d be tortured.

Prisoner Abuse In Russia

A deeply disturbing video from Yekaterinaburg prison in Russia. Since the beatings are not apparently designed to procure intelligence, it isn’t torture, strictly speaking. Unlike president Bush, however, I’m not inclined to defend the indefensible with semantics. Here’s the YouTube description:

A video discovered by Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomarev reveals cases of significant human rights abuses in a Yekaterinaburg prisoner camp, as the OMON police beat, torture, and intimidate the inmates as part of a "preventative action" to manage the prison population. The footage, which is from 2006, was captured covertly at great personal risk by a prison guard, and later leaked to Ponomarev, who succeeded in getting a brief excerpt aired on REN-TV very late at night. Here is the first full version of the video, brought to public distribution by the lawyer Robert Amsterdam, lawyer for the political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.