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For the week of November 7 - 13, 2001

  Opinion Columns

Musings about torture are dangerous form of contemplation

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Is this a glimpse of America’s future?

As father arrives home, mother asks, "How was your day, dear?"

Father: "Not good. I had a stubborn case. He still says he doesn’t know anything — even when I used electric cattle prods on his genitals, yanked a few fingernails, kicked him in the groin, and shot pepper spray into his eyes."

"You poor dear," mother says, as she wipes blood from father’s boots.


Not to a few opinion makers in U.S. media.

Torture as national policy has surfaced as a serious topic, even with Jonathan Alter, Newsweek magazine’s influential columnist and an NBC television commentator.

"Time to Think About Torture," headlined his column.

FOX TV news devoted a program to torture as a method of making suspects "spill the beans."

CNN’s "Crossfire" conservative panelist Tucker Carlson joined in, conceding that "torture is bad," but adding, "Some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils."

Surely this isn’t what Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had in mind several weeks ago when she predicted in a speech that Americans might forfeit some civil liberties as the result of the war on terrorism.

Or, perhaps this reckless talk merely is a sign of a bored media trying to excite some attention.

In the darks days after Sept. 11, media commentators were among the first to caution about abandoning constitutional guarantees in an ugly showdown with terrorists.

But now constitutional guarantees seem the least concern of some guard dogs of civil liberties.

The image of legally sanctioned torture in the U.S. criminal justice system is breathtaking as well as sickening.

Other than deranged psychopaths and sadists who relish brutality and maiming humans, who would administer torture? Would police academies graduate men and women skilled in inflicting pain?

Would physicians be required to keep torture subjects alive during physical abuse?

Would torture only be used by Feds? Or would local police demand the right of torture in drug cases, homicides and rapes to keep local peace and tranquillity?

Would torture methods be limited or would anything go — beating, sleep deprivation, imposed hunger, anal water injections, truth serums, electric shock, toxic spray, breaking bones, or what? If abuse resulted in death, would torture agents be automatically absolved?

Before beginning painful sessions, would torture agents require permission of judges? Or could torture be administered willy-nilly on anyone "suspected" of a crime?

Would torture sessions be open to witnesses as are executions?

And what, pray, would happen to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment and on obtaining evidence illegally — just ash can them as stuffy obstacles of a bygone era of naïve civility?

If the world’s spying apparatus must yield to torture to mine information, then billions spent on intelligence has been a sham.

Even now, we haven’t shown the stomach to act on information we have: Iraq’s cauldrons of death are boiling with a witch’s brew of biological, chemical and, probably, nuclear weapons materials.

What haven’t they been taken out with bombs?

The Nazis elevated torture to an art form. Ditto, World War II Japan, North Vietnam, the Cold War Soviet Union, communist China and brutal regimes of Asia and Africa.

More often than not, torture brutally elicits false confessions for propaganda purposes, not for useful intelligence.

Now Newsweek’s Alter and others would have the United States add its name to this motley history of beastliness by uncivilized rogue nations.

If physical abuse to elicit information is our next step backward to the Stone Age, then say kiss the courts system goodbye; shred federal and state constitutions; shut down multi-billion dollar crime investigative tools, and propose a treaty legitimizing torture worldwide.

Then we will have sunk to the same level as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.