Friday, December 09, 2005

Why I Love Andrew Sullivan

I do love him. I do. I don't agree with him on the things that make him a conservative and me a liberal (I don't feel like elaborating), but we agree on probably the most fundamental, crucial question facing this country now: is there any situation, any "ticking time bomb," any extenuating circumstance in which the government should sanction the use of torture?

In the National Review Online (yes, the National Review Online), Sullivan takes fellow conservative Charles Krauthammer to task for writing an article defending the use of torture in particular "ticking time bomb" situations. The idea is this: if you've captured an al qaeda operative who knows the exact location of a bomb that is about to go off and kill innumerable innocents, you should torture him, if need be, to get the essential information out of him and diffuse the bomb. Torture is thus condoned in certain controlled situations.

Sullivan speaks to this and explains why this attitude, while perhaps vicerally understandable, is nonetheless wrong; and why we do much more harm than good, globally, by engaging in torture, even in extreme situations.

"Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person's will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. ...

The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South. ...

Indeed, the very concept of Western liberty sprung in part from an understanding that, if the state has the power to reach that deep into a person's soul and can do that much damage to a human being's person, then the state has extinguished all oxygen necessary for freedom to survive. That is why, in George Orwell's totalitarian nightmare, the final ordeal is, of course, torture. Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation. If the point of the U.S. Constitution is the preservation of liberty, the formal incorporation into U.S. law of the state's right to torture--by legally codifying physical coercion, abuse, and even, in Krauthammer's case, full-fledged torture of detainees by the CIA--would effectively end the American experiment of a political society based on inalienable human freedom protected not by the good graces of the executive, but by the rule of law."

There is no situation extreme enough to warrant the use of torture. In doing so, we may obtain information (often flawed, actually)- but we sully the very principles on which our society is based, and in doing so destroy it. I'm not ready to do that. I'm not ready to end the American experiment, not yet.

Thanks, Andrew Sullivan, for pointing out that we need to remain on our guard, because the Bush Admin. seems just about ready to indulge the darker, more fearful side of our collective nature and ruin everything we hold very dear.


At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Pocket said...

I always liked Andrew Sullivan just because he made it okay for a man of letters to have a hairy chest. As I enter academia, I can finally hold my head high.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Noisette said...

Nice! Vive la hairy chest!

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Noisette said...

aha. Just figured out who you are, Pocket. Indeed, standing on the (hairy) shoulders of giants is an impressive endeavor. You'll look good up there.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Unsane said...

He makes sense. I was in a place of employment which used "torture" on a mild level -- actually nitpicking, constant reprimands and humiliating and condescending "talks" to some of its employees (including myself) --in order to try to get "results". It didn't. This approach just embittered many of us who were treated in this way. It did break us down psychologically to some degree, and perhaps physically. It made me very sensitive to the negative qualities of the perpetrators as a TYPE of person too. A great deal of this behaviour was instigated by a particular person who didn't like the fact that I was not a born and bred "Australian". Now, I have great contempt for petty nationalists from this country, and I am quite suspicious, too, of those who trumpet the glories of "being Australian" AS IF to imply that this condition ("being Australian") should be thought of as a morally laudible position, in itself. Oh yeah.

I also re-embraced my white African roots, which I had forgotten about, mostly, before this workplace persecution.

Yup! Torture can definitely backfire!


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