Saturday, September 23, 2006

What is "America"?

I have been listening to the debate about how we define torture and what we allow in the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. I have heard at least one listener call in to an NPR program on the subject a few days ago and say that how we treat prisoners is a reflection on us as a nation rather than a reflection on them as individuals. That is one of the forgotten keys in the official debate on this subject. As I thought about that sentiment it sent me back to the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph starts by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Is this the same America that is torturing prisoners, in any degree? If we truly believe that all men are created equal and that all men posses certain inalienable rights including - but not limited to - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then we should, in all our official conduct, treat all men as if they are equal and as if they posses those inalienable rights. We should, in all our conduct as a nation, do what we can to protect and promote those rights for all people, not just citizens of our nation.

When our nation takes a stand on anything it should be done in a way that upholds the fundamental values of our nation, such as the idea that all men are created equal and posses certain rights. Our soldiers should treat prisoners in a way that acknowledges their equal standing as human beings. Torture is terrorism on an individual scale. Therefore when we practice any degree of torture we become terrorists. If there is one thing we should know about fighting terrorists it should be that we cannot beat them if we join them.

Men of faith (any faith) - as our sitting president claims to be - who recognize a controlling power in the world superior to the United States (I'm not talking about the UN here), should believe that their supreme being will assist the side of righteousness in any conflict between good and evil with the condition that there must be some way to tell the good side from the evil side. So long as we condone any degree of torture - and this may go beyond the Geneva Conventions - we blur the lines between who is good and who is bad in this conflict - no matter how clear the title "War on Terror" sounds.

Update 10/4/2006: I just stumbled upon this discussion from September 25th on NPR: Talk of the Nation. It was very interesting to listen to the perspective of Mr. Dorfman.

2 comments:

Jason said...

I prefer not to comment directly on the subject of torture, as I'm not sure I know how I feel about that yet. I would rather address the larger message - that of equal rights under God.

In my opinion, the equality we are given by God is an equality of opportunity, not equality of results. Anyone may make choices and take actions that by their very nature limit that individual's subsequent freedoms. Governments have long acted, and I think rightly so, to limit the freedom of individuals who trample on the liberties of others. If I break into your house and steal your things, it is my choice, not the choice of the police or the prosecutor or the government at large, that puts me behind bars. If I choose to murder, it is my action, not that of an unrighteous state, that takes my life. If I choose to combine with forces of terrorism to destroy peace loving people, it is my action that cuts off my freedoms.

I think it is wholly appropriate to treat people differently when their own actions separate them from the general populace. Is the treatment of terrorist prisoners by America worse than the treatment of the King-Men by Moroni? Yet he is highly regarded as a righteous man, because of his thirst for freedom and his seeking it for his people, even by the horrors of war and by the imprisonment and execution of those who would not covenant to join his movement.

Where does torture fit into this? I'm still not sure. Thoughts?

David said...

I agree that people may lose some of their freedoms based on their choices. I am not in favor of granting full freedom to those who trample the liberty of others.

I do think that the treatment of terrorist prisoners by America is worse than the treatment of the King-Men by Moroni. I thought of Moroni as I was writing the original post. He knew when to curtail the freedom of those who would trample the liberty of others, but we have no indication that he treated them in an abusive manner. That is where torture fits into this. Any act of torture, for interrogation or out of base inhumanity, serves to contradict the idea that all men are created equal. As I said in the original post - when we practice any degree of torture we become terrorists because torture is terrorism on an individual scale.

There are times when we must limit the freedoms of some people because of their choices. As you say, governments have the right and even the obligation to do so. When we begin to torture those we have so detained, for any reason, we have crossed the boundary of our obligation - even if, as a nation, we have the right to do so according to international law.