Tuesday 4 May 2004

George Bush and the Justification of Torture

Torture, which the UN defines as severe mental or physical pain inflicted to coerce or punish, is illegal. It is prohibited by U. S. and international law, and is considered inhumane and immoral by most people. But this past week we were reminded once more that it is still practiced. In a Baghdad prison where Saddam Hussein's jailers once tortured and raped their own countrymen, Americans are accused of similar atrocities against Iraqi prisoners.

The photos are all over the internet, with two that are particularly repulsive: in the first, a young American woman is seen smiling, a cigarette dangling from her mouth as she points, gun-like, at a naked Iraqi man. The second is of a hooded man standing on a box with electrodes dangling from various points on his body. Reportedly, he was told that if he fell from the box he would be electrocuted.

Six soldiers now face charges for these despicable and inhumane acts, even though some maintain that intelligence officers approved of the torture, even thanked the soldiers for "softening up" the inmates prior to interrogation. Others may eventually be charged with crimes as the full story emerges.

A very few may argue that this latest incidence of torture is justified: "Remember Falluja!" they might say, recalling the desecration of the four Americans last month. But most of us will find the acts abhorrent and demand punishment. We will say this torture -- any torture -- is unjustified, and that those who commit such acts deserve severe punishment. In short, we will claim the moral high ground, raising ourselves above the soldiers who so severely humiliated and degraded the Iraqi prisoners. However, this approach oversimplifies the nature of torture and of war.

When George Bush sent 120,000 young Americans to overthrow the repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, he fully expected the soldiers to kill large number of Iraqis -- such is the nature of war. And to get them in the proper frame of mind, Bush spent several months exaggerating the danger posed by Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." The danger he laid out, especially during his January 2003 State of the Union speech, helped convince many of us that his war was justified. And a just war makes it much easier for soldiers to kill the enemy: Iraq was, after all, a huge danger to America. Or so Bush said. While that was enough to make old men vote for the war, it takes more than that to get soldiers to kill. The enemy must be dehumanized and demonized, which is a part of military training. As much as war is necessary, so is the process of turning the enemy into ogres.

All of which leads to Baghdad, to those torture chambers Bush recently claimed were now empty. And the question of whether or not torture is ever justified becomes, What else would you expect? With the enemy dehumanized and demonized by the entire process of war, why not torture them? This is what we get when we train people to kill, then let them have their way.

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