More than graduations and weddings

June is Torture Awareness Month.

It is a good month to put yourself in the shoes of another, particularly someone who is being tortured. Right now, as you read, in all likelihood someone is being tortured at the behest of the U.S. government.

Have you ever struggled to catch your breath, choked on food or drink “going down the wrong way,” panicked, feared you would die?

How much worse would it be if someone were deliberately drowning you, pouring streams of water over your face as you lay strapped to a board with your hands and feet bound, punching you in the stomach to make you open your mouth and gasp for air?

What would you do in this situation if you were told to name names, any names, or prepare to undergo the procedure again and again and again, each time nearly drowning?

Since 9/11, hundreds if not thousands of people have been arrested and tortured but then released because there was no evidence of any guilt, not even by association.

Remember the McCarthy era and its Cold War paranoia about Communist infiltration? Americans “gave up” names of friends and family members who were no threat to anyone, just to keep their own jobs and to feed Senator Joe McCarthy’s thirst for power.

That was a shameful era in this country, when ordinary people tolerated years of threats to democracy and human rights, personally betraying perfectly innocent others.

Consider how much worse it is today to ignore government-sanctioned torture of other human beings — and to justify that so-called enhanced interrogation in the name of democracy. Is behavior that defies international law and all human rights principles truly a pathway to democracy?

Please check out these resources:

Consciences need exercising. June is a good month to exercise yours.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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10 Responses to More than graduations and weddings

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    As I read this post I yearned to do something about these frightfully inhuman practices, so I clicked on “What you can do about torture.” It’s pathetically easy to join a group dedicated to stopping the inhumanity, Shoulder to Shoulder, but I suppose it’s better than doing nothing. Undoubtedly I will be asked for a donation and will respond–my very small way of doing something.

  2. Dahlia Wasfi says:

    THANK YOU for this post, and thank you, especially, for posting it on Memorial Day.

  3. Tom Zajc says:

    Wow. Not only does this readily define torture, it also fits the bill for a definition of terrorism, a definition in many cases that is hard to come by. Terrorism is exemplified in the case of destruction of civilian lives and premeditated, politically motivated acts of violence. Water boarding, a form of torture that is expressly forbidden under the United Nations Human Rights Act, is used particularly for gaining political information, for names of people that are politically opposed to another country. Michael J. Stevens, Ph.D., article “What is Terrorism and Can Psychology Do Anything
    to Prevent It? “asserts that the intentions of individuals to inflict harm on their victims in order to intimidate them is defined as terrorism.

    The sense of drowning that water boarding inflict on those who are subjected to it creates an atmosphere of fear in the victim, as actual drowning is itself, a terrifying experience: You are struggling so much to get at fresh air, but only get water, cutting off even more oxygen. This sense of fear and terror however, is considered by many to be useful for interrogation; it is ok to do this as long as it produces results. The problem with that however, at least with the United States, is that water boarding has failed to yield effective results; we have never been given any of the top names of our so-called enemies. Thus, we employ torture and terrorism thinking that it will and has yielded results when in fact it has not. The only thing it has yielded is a sense of disgust from the rest of the world, who calls us terrorists of our own. While most U.S. citizens assert that other countries are wrong for calling the United States terrorists, it is not the most far-fetched judgment- it is in fact more true than we would like it to be.

    • Whitney says:

      It is always interesting to think about the United States objectively and from a different perspective. On the inside, we are spoon-fed the belief that every measure in war we take is to protect the Americans and save their freedom. While I imagine most of this is true, and I would hope that we wouldn’t be engaging in violent acts for the hell of it, I don’t think that all Americans are able to look at our contributions to war from the other perspective. I agree in that we engage in measures that are considered torture for the purpose of gaining information, and therefore we can be considered terrorists in the same regard. It all depends on the perspective. I think that the US Government is trying to help out their entire country by using these measures, whereas I don’t think terrorists are trying to help further their respective country. Terrorists from the other side are trying to only help their extremist group. I don’t think the US Government always uses the right means to get their goal, but I really think that they are coming from a better place when they do engage in these violent acts and I think the US is trying to gain a larger, overarching goal than the terrorists in groups such as al-Qaeda, are doing.
      Again, I agree with you, that the US isn’t far from being considered terrorists as well because they are willing to perform harmful punishments and torture others, but I would like to believe that their motives are more globally appropriate than an extremist view.

      • Dahlia Wasfi says:

        I don’t believe that members of the US government are coming from a better place when they cause death and destruction, but I’m not sure if it matters. As Gandhi said, “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

        Major General Smedley Butler was one of the most highly decorated Marines in the history of the US military. He served from 1898 – 1931 in the Philippines, China, Central America, and the Caribbean. When his career was over, he wrote, “War is a Racket” in 1935, in which he said, “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
        “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…”
        If our government is trying to do right by us, I think they’re doing a terrible job, unfortunately.

  4. Gold Dust Twin says:

    When a highly decorated Marine Major General declares that war is a racket, always has been, and then goes on to describe exactly what he means, I am strongly tempted to e-mail his message to several friends. Their mantra is, “This great country of ours can do no wrong.” Anyone who disagrees is invited to go elsewhere. This is the response I would get if I quoted Major General Smedley Butler.

  5. Jac says:

    The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines torture as the following: “(1) anguish of body or mind; something that causes agony or pain; to punish or coerce by inflicting excruciating pain.” It is not a secret that the U.S. government has used torture of both body and mind on detainees in detention camps like Guantanamo Bay. However, what I did not think about before reading this blog post was the possibility that what is happening daily even inside of this country in our prisons could be considered torture as well. Perhaps that is because, as stated in Family Violence in the United States, “our culture is more preoccupied with violence and acts of commission than it is with things that cannot be so readily seen (acts of omission)” (p.135). As is the case with child neglect in comparison to child physical abuse, many people, myself included, may not have ever before considered the punishment of solitary confinement in U.S. jails to be just as, if not more, torturous than the interrogation procedures that have happened in our government’s detention camps.
    The links in this blog post lead to websites that discuss the treatment of prisoners in solitary confinement, who are forced to live in small windowless rooms without any human contact and only allowed out into a slightly larger cage than their cells for one hour each day to exercise alone. Although these people are given enough food and water to stay alive and allowed one hour daily to move around by themselves, it is arguable that they are undergoing torture caused by mental neglect and maltreatment. According to the link to Solitary Confinement: In your backyard, “many [prisoners] experience paranoia, delusions, and other long-term mental harm. Prolonged solitary confinement destroys prisoners’ minds, denies the opportunity for community, and violates the inherent, God-given dignity and worth of every person.” The physical and mental pain inflicted on these prisoners can be illustrated by a prisoner’s mother’s statement: “It was horrendous. He has been beaten. He has neck and back vertebrae injuries. He can’t use his hand to write anymore. He’s in pain, mentally. He was in ‘the hole,’ segregation, for months and months. I’ve spoken to people that were not mentally ill but were left in segregation cells and came out mentally ill.”
    Not everyone may agree that this torture should not be happening, but I think that most everyone would agree that children should not be subject to torture. And yet, as I read this blog post, I thought back to the case studies listed in Family Violence in the United States that described child physical and psychological neglect and maltreatment. Although it is probably not too difficult for someone to consider child physical or sexual abuse to be a form of physical and psychological torture because of its harmful physical and mental effects, I think many people would not automatically consider child neglect or maltreatment to be torture. I’d like to share parts of a case study and ask you to think of the definition of torture as you read it:
    In October of 2003, Raymond and Vanessa Jackson were arrested for starving four adopted children in their home in New Jersey. The Jacksons had seven children altogether, but only the four boys, ages 9 to 19, were on the brink of starving to death. The case came to the attention of authorities when a neighbor found the eldest boy rummaging in their garbage at 2 a.m. looking for food. It was later revealed that the boys had been locked out of the kitchen and survived on a diet of uncooked pancake batter, peanut butter, and dry cereal. The boys said they sometimes gnawed on wallboard and insulation to stave off hunger. None of the boys weighed more than 50 pounds. Neighbors assumed the oldest boy, who was only four feet tall, was 10 years old, not 19. (Family Violence in the United States, p.133)
    Judging from the severe physical underdevelopment of these children, it is plausible that they were also mentally underdeveloped and emotionally in pain. Although the Jackson children were not being beaten, can this be considered torturous? Although U.S. prisoners may not necessarily be physically punished, can their solitary confinement and subsequent mental anguish be considered torturous?
    According to Family Violence in the United States, some characteristics of children affect the likelihood that they will experience neglect: “It appears that boys, irritable or fussy children, and disabled or premature children are more likely to suffer from neglect than other children” (p.143). Although these types of children may be extremely misbehaved, why should having these characteristics condemn children to experience torturous suffering? Why should their inherent human dignity and worth be violated? In the same line of thinking, many prisoners have characteristics that made it more likely for them to be criminals. For example, a large amount of prisoners have suffered child abuse and are from families of lower SES. Although this does not excuse their behavior and although prisoners are not innocent children, are they not still human beings that should not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment?

    • kathiemm says:

      thanks for your excellent essay, Jac. You have made some excellent connections and asked some very important questions.

  6. Jamie (Jamesina) Crowe says:

    When one thinks of the United States, one thinks of freedom and our fore fathers that have worked so hard to give us our freedom and well as our military men and women that have sacrificed their time and lives. One does not readily think of torture. I like to believe the world is still a good place, yes, it may be a tad bit naive to think that. Because frankly, the world is a scary place to say the least. Torture. That is something no human wants to believe is happening here in the land of the free. But it does happen. And as this article describes, our own people are behing it. Our leaders who we are to look up to. This article brings to light, what most want to keep hidden. Torture, the thought of not being truly free as our fore fathers would have wanted for our country.

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