Has the United States government tortured inmates at Guantanamo Bay? Perhaps. Has torture been our national policy? Frankly, I do not know, but I doubt it. The answer is buried in the landscape of normal human confusion. In addition to the difficulties inherent in knowing what our people actually did do to the inmates at Guantanamo, we have yet to agree on the definition of torture and what constitutes national policy.
This morning’s editorial in the Outlook section of the Washington Post, The Stories of Torture Sounded Made Up. They Weren’t., did little to help the discerning reader. As usual, the reporter, in this case Carol D. Leonnig, provided more fuel for an active imagination than facts for a concerned citizen. What is the one bit of substance in this emotional opinion piece?
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler was hearing detainee lawyers’ claims that a new feeding chair for prisoners on hunger strike was Guantanamo’s latest torture tactic. A prisoner who refused to eat would be strapped into the chair for up to two hours while nutrients were pumped into his nose through a tube as thick as a small broom handle. Kessler paused after Henry assured her that, according to Guantanamo’s medical director and the base commander, the feeding inflicted no significant pain.
Kessler said that she had read many sealed records about the evidence against detainees and about their treatment, and that she now had much less trust in the government.
“I know it’s a sad day when a federal judge has to ask a DOJ attorney this, but I’m asking you,” Kessler said. “Why should I believe them?” (from here)
“Why should I believe them?” That is the crux of the problem. Truth with a capital “T” and humanity usually have too little commerce with one another. We each have our agenda, and we tend to sacrifice everything to that agenda, the Truth with a capital “T” being our favored sacrifice. So the wise look upon the words of their fellows with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Unfortunately, healthy skepticism is not a lesson that comes easily. It is convenient and more comfortable to accept conventional wisdom. What are the sources of conventional wisdom? The most powerful voice, the most confident voice, the voice of the majority, the voices of those on “our” side — these we find to be the most soothing sources of Truth.
Fortunately, experience instructs us in skepticism. Even when our schools and our teachers have failed to teach us to think properly, to look for proven facts presented in logical argument, life provides us with brutal corrective lessons.
The terrorists and our government are not the only possible sources of villainy in this affair involving the possibility of torture at Guantanamo Bay. The corporate news media can lie to us too. The corporate news media has one overriding task, provide an audience for advertisers. The “successful” reporter is one who gains the largest audience, and that word “torture” gains attention. Hence we must regard Leonnig’s supposed reluctance to use the word “torture” with some incredulity. As the Leonnig herself notes, she started using the “torture” in December 2004 (see here and here). In the first article, for the Seattle Times, she used the term “torture” twice. In her second, for the Washington Post, a paper with a larger circulation, she used the word eight times.
What drives this issue? There is politics, the hatred of President George W. Bush, and there is the abhorrence of torture. Too often it is hard to separate the two.