The “Torture Debate” Normalized

A recent tweet by Gleen Greenwald led me through a very important line of thought.

We are debating about torture.  It has become okay for us as Americans to consider at what point we cross a line from making someone uncomfortable to torturing them.  The crazy thing is, we are actually arriving at agreed upon, empirical lines of demarcation.  Case in point: I heard someone speaking on the radio yesterday and they were drawing a line between a detainee being slammed up against a wall 30 times as being torture, and less than 30 times as not being so.  To wit, 29 wall-slams is okay.  30 wall-slams, and you’ve tortured someone.  This sort of debate is dehumanizing.  It’s part of an overall strategy to get you to forget that you’re dealing with other humans and not cyborgs sent to kill us from the future like in some sort of sci-fi plot.

My point is the this: we have risen as a nation from the oppressive regimes of imperial monarchies, with liberty and freedom as our banner.  Now we are trying to toe an imaginary line between torture and not-quite-torture.  This concept has become acceptable or “normalized”.  You’re still consciously hurting another to save yourself.  This is not what I have been taught about the purpose of life.  This is not what I have been taught about the value of life.  This isn’t even what secular Americans have believed about life.  Americans, since the Revolutionary War, have believed, “we die so our children can be free.”  Today, it’s, “they die so our children can be free.”  Remind me how is that different than jihad.  Here, in this “debate,” life is being devalued.

“Torture” is a definition that floats with the shifting winds of our “morality”: today it’s 30 wall-slams, tomorrow, it may be 50.  We also seem to be sure of the definition of “terrorist”: today it’s Islamic fascist-driven jihad, tomorrow, mere christianity?  Who is setting these definitions and why do you trust them?

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