Tuesday, January 25, 2005

the moral issue of a generation

'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the
least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
Matthew 25:31-40

Every generation or so an issue arises that highlights the moral universe of a society in its time. The issue may involve millions of lives, as slavery and segregation did, or it may involve one individual or a few people as the Dreyfus affair did. Either way, their suffering suffuses the ethical landscape with a harsh brightness that leaves only light and shadow. State-sponsored torture, endorsed and carried out by our government, is one such issue. There is no room for equivocation, no room for caveats, no room to allow partisan political allegiances to stand in the way of the human conscience. There is only room for the "yes" or "no" answer to one question, posed in a song once long ago: Which side were you on?

Eric Martin discusses the issue at length, and eloquently, on Total Information Awareness, but the basic issue is simple. Government memos were written to circumvent the Geneva Convention. Andrew Sullivan coyly tries to elide the issue in this week's New York Times Book Review, using the sleight-of-hard observation that "our enemies" don't abide by the Convention, nor are they signatories to it or other documents of international law. We are - and we're supposed to be better than the torturers, not better torturers. Memos were written, orders were given, "encouragement" was provided, and human beings were tortured. We are all responsible. We all paid for it. The government has made its position clear by punishing no one except a few low ranking folks who got caught. The real perpetrators have been promoted. So now that we bear collective responsibility, the question is: what are you going to do about it?

If you're not a fan of international law, you can always conduct this simple experiment: How would you feel if you saw American soldiers being subjected to the practice? Would you consider it "abuse"? Would "waterboarding" be OK? How about being tormented with the threat of bites from a vicious dog, after which the dog was released and shredded a human leg? Would you be happy if you heard American Christians forced to thank Allah, or Buddha, or Shiva that they are still alive? When you heard that dozens of our men and women tried to kill themselves in captivity, would you feel anything? What would you think of a government that condones or encourages such practices? Now, take those feelings and imagine if you knew that many of the people being subjected to these practices are innocent civilians. Then imagine a leader of the opposition party in that government saying of that policy's legal architect, as Sen. Patrick Leahy said of Alberto Gonzales, that he is "nice." Would you consider that country a true democracy?

What would you think of "bloggers" who condoned this activity, or felt that objections to it were exaggerated? What would you think of Senators who voted to confirm that legal architect? What would you think of anyone who supported that political party and worked in its campaign (think Schwarzenegger, Giuliani, Pataki, McCain, and other so-called "moderate" Republicans?) Would you think they're good human beings? "Nice"? What would you think if they had someone like Rush Limbaugh over there, who compared the torture to a fraternity hazing? Would you think any of these people should be allowed a seat at the table where civil human discourse takes place?

I am signing this petition,which came to my attention through BOPNews. I urge other bloggers - including those on the Right, and especially libertarians - to do so. This is not a left/right issue. This is an issue of morality. I believe a great many politicians, "pundits", and other public figures who equivocate on this issue will be remembered in disgrace for generations to come.

At least I hope so.