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Torture Discourse Impacts National Character

Jill Garvey • Apr 26, 2009

Like a lot of people I’m worn out by the non-stop coverage of torture. After all who wants to hear more about Bush, Cheney and Abu Ghraib? Americans already divorced themselves from the horrification of war; our romanticized notion of a country defending democracy long ago turned to disgust and apathy. The real war infected us, became chronic and painful, so we amputated ourselves from it. Many are wondering, why talk now about something we’ve managed to ignore for so long?

As painful as it is to hear, national discourse on torture is necessary. What makes it harder is Obama’s confusion about how to handle this can of worms. Perhaps though Obama’s bumbling missteps are merely a reflection of our nation’s moral missteps on how to treat those we detain.

Critics of Obama’s decision to release Bush-era torture memos are concerned that it will detract from other pressing issues. ‘Why focus on the past’ they ask ‘when we desperately need to move forward?’

It is tempting to stick it in the ‘let’s forget the Bush Administration’ file, but there are too many reasons not to; reasons that affect our future nation.

60 years ago we entered into an agreement to operate more humanely, even if others didn’t agree to do the same. We committed our nation to being a role model for democracy and governance, and even though we failed, transparency is a means to regain our tarnished democracy.

Torture and racism go hand-in-hand; if we really want to overcome racism then talking about torture is a step in the right direction. Race plays a significant role in who is allowed to torture, who it is acceptable to torture, and the punishment one receives for torturing.

The economy is crippling America’s poor, our immigration system is in shambles, hate crimes are on the rise, and how we treat our fellow man in desperate times has everything to do with who we are. We torture people; not just in Iraq, but in our prisons, jails and detention centers. Our acceptance of torture outside of our borders affects our entire justice system within them.

As a nation we need to come to terms with how far we have fallen. Confusion, denial, anger, shame and finally acceptance are part of the process. By my calculation we’re already working our way through confusion and denial, just watch one of Obama’s speeches or listen to the dizzying excuses for why torture isn’t really torture, but is ok if it was torture.

The intense debate on torture can’t be summed up by one individual’s tragic story, or one successful instance of information gathering; it needs to be understood and resolved through the prism of every angle of the truth. So let’s find the truth, all the ugly, horrifying details of it, and hope that we are a nation that can solve more than one problem at a time.

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