Torture Trouble

There is a lot of talk of torture in the air as America comes to terms with with the legacy of the past eight years. There is also a plethora of tortured euphemisms at work as people attempt to deflect responsibility for what was done to other human beings for the sake of our own peace and security. "Enhanced interrogation methods", for example, sounds like a harmless upgrade to the normal regime of questioning, perhaps available by using the interviewee's frequent flier miles, rather than the brutal truth of what it is: slamming people against walls, pushing them to the point of death through drowning or forcing them into painful postures for hours at a time (and those are the least vile). Even the term "waterboarding" has the ring of something you do on a beach in Hawaii rather than in some dank basement prison.

Let's be honest. No matter how much we try and talk around or even outright avoid the subject, the truth is that torture was done on our behalf, by a government that we elected (or at least allowed to be elected) and it is an uncomfortable thing to accept. Inventing soft ball terminology to disguise what happened does not make it go away any more than calling a garbage collector a "waste removal expert" changes the dirty nature of his job.

Carl Jung once said, "The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers." There is something wrong with the people who tortured and they must be healed. To the extent that we are part of a society that produced this sickness, we each need some treatment. Who hasn't watched the odd violent movie, for example, or rooted for Jack Bauer on the TV series 24 as he beats up fictional terrorists? What kind of contribution is that to our collective psychology? It can't be good, especially when it is repeated over and over on a daily basis.

The knee jerk reaction, of course, is to want to play the blame game and single out a few unfortunate souls to punish (and how many wouldn't love to see Dick Cheney behind bars?) It conveniently takes the spotlight from our own responsibility, but does it really change anything? We did this after World War II, to the point of actually executing Japanese soldiers who used waterboarding on US prisoners of war. Now, sixty years later, it's us who are the perpetrators, so that obviously didn't work out too well.

As human beings we all carry elements of both light and darkness. Each of us has to deal with these competing forces throughout our lives to different degrees. We only hope we can move more in the direction of light as we seek to reconnect with our divine origins, but it is not always easy in these current times. Taking the path of punishment for those who carried out our collective sins will only create another cycle of violence to add to already spinning wheels of destruction. As Mahatma Ghandi said, an eye for an eye will eventually make us all go blind. Pointing fingers will not redeem us. Perhaps we should let the gods of karma take care of this side of things and focus on what we can do to make the world a better place.

Squarely facing the truth of what happened in our name as the people of East Germany and South Africa did when dealing with the horrors of political oppression and apartheid by their leaders would be a good start the cleansing process and be a first step to ensuring we never go down this path again. We definitely need to throw some healing light on the subject and strings of evasive euphemisms certainly don't help achieve this.

"Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself." -British historian, James Anthony Froude (1818-1894).