Better UTAH Beat Episode 45 – April 23, 2013

The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat. It aired on April 23, 2013.

This is Maryann Martindale from the alliance for a better utah and Welcome to the Better UTAH Beat

The United States’ relationship to torture got a little clearer this week after a nearly 600-page report was released, detailing the extent to which the United States participated in torture in the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001. The report was assembled by a non-partisan, 11-member committee from the Constitution Project, itself a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington DC.

Not surprisingly, The results are damning.

Among the 24 specific findings of the task force are that:

1) the United States unequivocally engaged in the use of torture, as well as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of prisoners, even if the latter treatment did not necessarily constitute torture.

2) Senior U.S. officials are ultimately responsible for any use of torture in the United States by either directly sanctioning the use of torture or by doing nothing to stop the use of torture.

3) The use of torture did not yield useful evidence.

4) The use of secret prisons and arbitrary detainment   violates the United States’ international legal obligations.

Alliance for a Better UTAH Board member David Irvine was one of the 11 members of the task force. Irvine, a former Utah state legislator, retired from the army in 2002 as a brigadier general. Previously he was on the faculty of the Sixth Army Intelligence School where he taught courses on military law and counterintelligence.

Since 2005, Irvine has been involved with a group of retired admirals and generals who advocate against the use of torture. For the last two years, Irvine has worked with the Constitution Project to write this recent report.

In an OpEd in the Salt Lake Tribune over the weekend, Irvine frankly discussed the use of torture:

“Yes, we brutally tortured a whole lot of people. Yes, torture was approved at the very highest levels of our government. Yes, it was illegal. Yes, no one above flunky level has been accountable for any of it. Yes, torture appears not to have produced intelligence that saved lives. Yes, we at times tortured the wrong people. Yes, we don’t care. Yes, torture can never be justified, period.”

As Irvine suggests, torture is about more than practical information gathering. In other words, even if actionable data had been extracted from any persons tortured, torture would still be wrong. To restate Irvine’s assertion: “Torture can never be justified, period.”

We agree with Irvine and the report. The use of torture is inimical to the principles that a democratic society is founded upon. Primary among those principles is the use of communication and debate to arrive at decisions.

The noted academic Elaine Scarry argued in her well received book, The Body in Pain, that torture disfigures not only the victim’s world, but the torturer’s world as well. This occurs because the aim of torture is to produce pain. And pain, being non-linguistic by its very nature, can’t be empirically communicated to another human being. In other words, the experience of pain can’t be shared. It is totally relative to the person experiencing that pain. But democracies rely almost exclusively on our ability to communicate our experiences with one another. Without free and open debate, there can’t be democracy. Torture impedes the processes of communication and debate that are critical to a functioning democracy.

Torture not only disfigures our bodies, and thus the larger, democratic body or the nation as a whole–but our souls as well. If the United States engages in torture, then we, as citizens, inasmuch as we do nothing to stop these cruel practices, are complicit in the act of torture. This is a bitter pill.

However, accepting that torture is my problem, and your problem, is the only way for us to ensure it’s practice does not resume.

Alberto J. Mora, former Navy General Counsel said:

“The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values. If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America — even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception the whole Constitution crumbles.”

And from President Obama:

“We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions.”

Until next week, this is maryann martindale with the alliance for a better Utah with this weeks edition of the better Utah beat

Have a great week and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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