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Why Write About Something So Ugly?
March 2, 2014
Some friends ask why I chose to write a novel that includes such a distasteful topic as torture. It is so ugly and controversial, most people would rather avoid the subject altogether. Further, Internal Security depicts the reality of the act, not some harmless comic book version.
Why, indeed? The truth is, I could probably write a second book on why it is so important to challenge this ancient and immoral practice.
Torture-them-until-they-talk is a very bad policy that will come back to haunt our nation for decades— perhaps centuries. Overstatement? Hardly. In the Constitution, our founders specifically outlawed cruel and unusual punishment, along with self-incrimination, for good reason. For them, memories were still fresh of abuses suffered at the hands of brutal rulers in the countries they had left behind in Europe. They still clearly remembered horrifying and senseless punishment meted out in its worst forms, and they resolved to prevent it from ever happening here.
Today, most Americans prefer not to think about torture at all, but it is particularly uncomfortable to those who want to think of our nation as wholly benign and just. Torture, for any reason, is wrong. Inflicting pain and degradation on a fellow human being has no true justification. As a captive, the victim cannot fight back, cannot escape, cannot seek protection. Moreover, if the victim claims innocence, perhaps truthfully, the torturer increases and prolongs pain in an attempt to get at a supposed truth, thus torture presupposes guilt. If guilty, the torturer increases your pain to get at still more information you may or may not possess. So, no matter what the victim says, if guilty the pain worsens—if innocent, it also worsens.
Anyone suffering excruciating pain and fear of death would do anything to make it stop, which brings up a central and highly practical argument against coercive interrogation—it does not work. A tortured human being will say anything—including truth or lie or somewhere in between—to end their pain. Information obtained by such methods is worse than useless because it has no credibility, and therefore, can only mislead the interrogator. Indeed, how could anyone deranged by intense pain even be sure of what they are saying? How could they ascertain fact from fiction?
Wouldn’t you say or do anything to have a live electrode removed from your tongue? Or to have a black hood taken off your head that you’ve been forced to wear for days. Or to clear your lungs of water as you choke to the point of death? After hours or even months of such treatment, would you even know your own mind and memories well enough to distinguish a lie from the truth?
Our founders knew full well that government-sanctioned torture has a way of flying out of control. They had experienced that kind of dictatorial government in Europe and wanted to end it. They understood that allowing these methods to be used on suspects is just one short step from using it on anyone.
You, yes you, could be next.
They understood that lesson from direct experience. Perhaps we have forgotten it. When examined even casually, nothing about torture sounds very sensible. Yet it is exactly what our nation has done recently, and is most likely still doing at secret sites around the world. Torture is not comic book violence. Real people suffer real horror, all in the name of somehow keeping us free and safe, as if freedom and safety have any validity when we betray our core principles so readily.
Still unsure? Ask any man who spent time in a prison camp in North Vietnam or North Korea what he thinks of torture. Or perhaps ask a survivor of Stalin’s secret police, or a victim of the Khmer Rouge or the Nazis, or . . . even the Americans.
Ask the victims of American torture. It has an awful ring to it, doesn’t it?