Saturday, March 6, 2010

The True Nature of Evil

"Unholy Alliance" (a novelette published by Eternal Press and currently available through, and Kindle) is a horror story about a young man trying to discern the true nature of good and evil. He finds the distinction isn't as simple as he once believed.

A real-life horror story is being played out in these United States. The clear moral codes and values that once defined us as a nation and have seen us triumphantly through terrible wars have, it seems, been so clouded by fear and so compromised that they are almost meaningless.

Waterboarding. Sounds almost like a sport. (For some, perhaps it is.) It's actually another word for subjecting a human being to "simulated" drowning. Nothing simulated about it, really. The pain of suffocation is quite real. Waterboarding originated as a form of torture in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were prosecuted as war criminals for waterboarding American prisoners of war. Well, of course. Such barbaric acts go against everything this nation stands for. Right? Not according to former Vice President Dick Cheney:

"I'm a strong believer in it," Cheney told a National Press Club audience. "I thought it was well done." His former boss, President George W. Bush apparently didn't agree, as his administration banned waterboarding in 2003. President Obama has said waterboarding is torture and repugnant to American values. Cheney remains unconvinced. "I don't believe that we engaged in torture," he argued. (I'm almost afraid to envision what he would consider torture.)

Well, here's one possibility: According to reports out of the Bush administration, the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national at Guantanamo. The interrogators threatened to sick a dog on him, subjected him to sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity, sexual humiliation and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition." The man had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point his heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute. Legal officials deemed this torture and blocked prosecution of the prisoner because of it. Other such prisoners have died of their beatings. Still not convinced, Mr. Cheney? It gets worse.

The U.S. news media have profiled cases of innocent people in many countries who have been literally snatched off the street for no other reason than the color of their skin or their religion, detained in secret prisons without charge or trial, where they were tortured, physically and psychologically for years on end. Our government's own files confirm this. Some people were simply "profiled" ; If they fit a religious, personal and/or ethnic profile attributed to potential terrorists by U.S. intelligence, they could be hauled in by local police or military hoping to collect U.S. bounties on "suspicious foreigners." Foreign cops and soldiers did the actual dirty work, but American military planes have been used to transport such victims to countries like Syria and Uzbekistan (countries infamous for torturing and killing political prisoners and gunning down peaceful protesters in their streets) for the purpose of torture. The torture would consist of severe beatings, for a start. At least one victim reported being taken to a room where he would hear other people screaming in agony nearby. He was kept in an underground cell 3 feet wide, 6 feet long and 7 feet high, for 10 straight months. He described it as being buried alive. Wait, it gets better.

Ever wonder what the corpse of a 35-year old father of four would look like after being burned on the legs, buttocks, lower back and arms? Sixty to seventy percent of the body was burned, overall. Doctors who saw the body reported that such burns could only have been caused by immersion in boiling water. Those who saw the body also reported that there was a large, bloody wound on the back of the head, heavy bruising on the forehead and side of the neck, and that his fingernails had been pulled out. We're just getting warmed up. People being raped with broken bottles. People having their children tortured in front of them until they sign a confession. People being boiled alive, according to a former United Kingdom ambassador to Uzbekistan. This was America and her allies? This is who we are? Time was such things were confined to Nazi concentration camps and Soviet gulags.

Mr. Cheney remains steadfast in his defense of such acts. How does he justify it? Quite simply. By remembering the horror of 9/11. "I looked at the world the morning after 9/11, and what I saw was 16 acres of ashes in downtown New York City," he recalled. "You could, if you looked closely enough on television, see footage of American citizens jumping out of windows on the upper stories of the Trade Center because it was better than being burned to death. Those individuals who wished us harm and who were prepared to kill thousands of Americans ... got what they had coming to them," he said.

The scar of that terrible day cut deep to the heart and soul of this country. We all wanted revenge. Revenge tempts and corrupts the best of us, like a drug. Once you're on it, there's little hope of getting off. And, it destroys us in ways no terrorist attack ever could. Not just by taking innocent lives or destroying buildings, but by destroying the values that make us who we are. That make us distinguishable from our enemies. And, we have survived many powerful enemies, from the British Empire to Hitler to the Soviet Union, and we have prevailed. Not in spite of our democratic and humanitarian values, but because of them. And, without resorting to torture. Now, Mr. Cheney and others like him would have us believe Magna Carta, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights...every thing that makes us who we are...are foolish luxuries we can no longer afford. Why? Because the enemy is Al Qaeda? What's Al Qaeda? A band of suicidal cut-throat fanatics hiding in mountain caves? We must give up 200 years of moral and legal tradition because of them? Are we so weak that so paltry an enemy can drag us down to their level so easily? One of our defining moral values, far deeper than constitutional law, is that when faced with a difficult decision, ask yourself: What would Jesus do? The answer usually is that the easy path is not the correct one.

Torture is easy. It's a surrender to the beast inside you, not unlike the surrender of those who line up to blow themselves up to kill us. Surrender to the hate and the darkness. It's so easy. What then, is left of our souls? What looks back at us from the mirror? Is there anything left to leave the next generation? Remember: dictatorships are safer from terrorists, to be sure. But, they never pass the test of time.

President Obama has vowed an end to the practices of torture. It's not likely to continue under his administration. But, he seems to be dragging his feet on closing Guantanamo, and he has not prosecuted U.S. intelligence officials responsible for torture. We may be just one election away from more secret prisons and torture chambers. The most frightening part of all this is that a large number of Americans couldn't care less. Maybe because they've conned themselves into believing that torturing people makes this country safer (even though not a shred of hard evidence bears this out.) Or, maybe they simply don't care about anyone different from themselves; a very common attitude. The Internet is flooded with angry posts from people who keep screaming that because the enemy does the same thing, why shouldn't we do it? America, the mirror of Al Qaeda. Is that our moral code now?

Remember...If there are no rules, if our intelligence agencies become secret police forces answerable only to themselves, then what stands between us and them? Who among our own population is safe, if his or her "profile" is suggestive of something that someone in power doesn't like? We've all seen the deadly results of police profiling. How long before secret prisons and torture chambers...perhaps even death camps...become the American way of life? Those in favor of the easy path obviously tell themselves: "Not my problem. They'll only come for those different ones. The weirdoes. The dissidents. The outsiders. I'm safe." Maybe until you attend a Tea Party rally. Or, they find something in your family history they don't like. There's always something. No one is safe.

"And, when they finally got around to me...there was no one left to protest." We've seen this all before.

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