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Tortured Republican Relativism May 15, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Dick Cheney, National Politics, Republicans, Torture.
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TortureRackBefore Niagara Falls, Ontario, built its rather fabulous casinos – a person visiting there was limited in his entertainment choices after taking in the waterfall.  A must-see became the chotchkey wax museums, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, and the trashy souvenir stores along Clifton Hill.  Stretching about a mile and a half up from the falls, Clifton Hill was (and still is) a paradise of the weird, wild, and gruesome.

One of my favorite Clifton Hill attractions was the Medieval Torture Room exhibit at Ripley’s.  There, several implements used to torture human beings are on display along with descriptions of how they were used.  What I find fascinating is not only that  these things were used, but that actual people sat down and invented these things – items used only to “break” or cause pain to other human beings.   The inhumanity of it all leaves one breathless. 

Torture was accepted in the middle ages as de riguer; that is, it was the way that princes and kings, armies and churches, got their information.  Sometimes they got it right, often times they got it wrong, but at all times it was the way of doing business.

A popular form of torture was The Rack (pictured here).  The implement was breathtaking in its simplicity and unparallelled in its ability to cause great amounts of pain without death.  A person to be tortured was placed spread-eagle on the frame, his arms and legs tied to rollers at either end.  As his inquisitor asked him questions, the slack from the ropes was slowly rolled in, causing mild discomfort at first, but finally ending in the poor bastard’s arms and kegs being pulled from their sockets.  The tortured could end it his pain at any time by just giving the inquisitor the answer he wanted to hear.   A few times things went wrong when an over-zealous torturer would actually pull the prisoner’s arms and legs clean-off, but mostly it was effective in just causing excruciating pain. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Rack these days as we discuss the waterboarding of Arab detainees in U.S. custody.  There are some that will argue that waterboarding – or simulated drowning – is not torture.  To me, use of the waterboard is no different than use of the rack.  Neither one will actually kill you – unless it is not done properly – but they both are designed to instill fear and pain (and if there’s anyone who doesn’t think there’s pain associated with drowning, he’s a fool).   We Americans recognized waterboarding as torture and a crime when we prosecuted and convicted Japanese soldiers after World War II for doing it.  Yet we are treated to almost daily defenses of the procedure – along with others – by the neo-con nuts that brought us the Iraq War. 

The latest defenders of American torture are former Vice-President Dick Cheney and his daughter Lynn.  The Cheney family torture tour seeks to absolve the Price of Darkness of any culpability in waterboarding prisoners of war and the overall torture and abuse of said prisoners.  Cheney’s defense of the former administration’s actions is two-fold; first, it led to actionable intelligence that thwarted terrorist attacks and kept the U.S. safe, and second, that there were legal opinions supporting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and were, therefore, permissable.

This is the worst sort of moral relativism – the sort used only when it serves an individual purpose.  In most cases, things are either right or they are wrong.  These ideals are based upon values we – as a society – have shared for thousands of years.  To faithful Christians, these absolutes are natural law – passed down from God himself.  Christians use moral absolutes to argue against issues that are really important to them like abortion and gay rights.  They will shake a finger at those of us that are less fundamentalist or absolutist and will say that “killing the innocent is ALWAYS wrong”, except if they’re Iraqi civilians at a wedding reception.  Then it’s “regrettable, but the price of war.”   They will “tsk-tsk” those of us that support gay marriage and will pass laws because “homosexuality is against God’s law”, except if it’s one of their mega-church ministers that’s the gay person.  Then it’s “sad”, but they pray for his recovery – all the while kicking him out of his church, his home, and even his state of residence.   That the Republicans should employ this sort of relativism to torture is not really a surprise – but it is stunning nonetheless. 

I never thought I’d ever see an American justify torture.  Ever.

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