Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A gluttony for death

After posting yesterday about one of the things I feel separates gluttony the sin from the joy of food - the concept of sharing that basic staple among friends in fellowship, each taking what they need from the common pot, I feel led this morning to talk about gluttony of a different kind. This morning, I had the radio on, since there is flooding in my area and commutes have been seriously disrupted for the last couple days, both cars and public transit. On public radio, they discussed both the recent Supreme Court decision on the death penalty and went on to interview Alan Dershowitz on the idea of warrants for torture.

As I sat there, I thought of the checkbox system that the Supreme Court approved for the death penalty: collect so many checks in one column, and even if there are an equal number in another column, you will be executed. It seems to be a system that exonerates the individual jury member of responsibility. It's not that I think they should die, you see, I just determined that while they may have had diminished responsibility due to an unfortunate upbringing and a mental disability, there were two aggravating factors, so we had no choice. And of course, with everything in neat checkboxes, we can pretend that the death penalty is being applied as fairly as it could possibly be, that there are no biases based on race or economic class. We can pretend that our society is not committing a grave sin. And more people can go to their deaths in little rooms, strapped to a guerney, allowing the observers to pretend that this is a scientific, nay, a medical proceedure, rather than a barbaric act of putting a fellow human being to death, every bit as barbaric as the noose, the chair, the stone, the axe of yore. Allowing us to go about our business as the guillotine falls elsewhere.

And the thirst for blood extends in other ways. The United States commits torture on a routine basis. There is no one in the world who doesn't know that now. We use techniques known to have been used in the Inquisition (waterboarding, for instance) in an attempt, supposedly, to flush out terrorists. We starve, contort, deny medical aid, deprive of sleep, confine people in darkness and filth, sexually abuse, and otherwise torture people. We do this without my personal approval, but we do it anyway. Mr. Dershowitz suggests that he also opposes torture, but believes that since it is inevitable, it is better to create a legal system within which torture may be used in specific ways for specific purposes, rather than deny we are doing it, yet encourage it from the top.

Which sounds briefly like an intelligent idea, until one thinks about it for a second.

Such an idea is always advanced by people who want to use torture. It has been advanced, I have no doubt, since one tribe caught a member of another tribe and wanted to beat the location of that other tribe's cache of dried mammoth meat out of him or her. It was certainly advanced by the Romans, who had an elaborate law built around torture. Saddam Hussein has argued that he simply enforced his country's laws when he tortured. Every torturer in the history of torture feels that right and good is on his side. If it weren't, why would he have the red-hot pincers, instead of the victim? And in every case, torture always goes beyond what is "allowed" in the law. Torture becomes a tool of petty revenge. There are Inquisition cases of unhappy servants reporting their employers as heretics over personal slights. There are current cases of people having nothing to do with terrorism or insurgency imprisoned by the US on the word of personal enemies. Rather than tolerate the further spread of torture, it is time to hold the torturer accountable. Remove those public servants who have abused the power of office to encourage torture. Demand accountability for the end of torture. This has got to stop.

3 Comments:

Blogger Thee, Hannah! said...

My favorite was the dunk test for witches--if you swam, you were a witch; if you drowned, you were innocent. Dead, but innocent.

This isn't completely along the same lines, but I think that to some extent, this runs through almost every aspect of our lives. In Houston, at least, the local news is literally a string of one shooting or murder trial after another. There is almost no actual news--it's all blood. (This is why we watch PBS. At least their blood and guts is of international significance.) People seem willing to shoot their neighbors over every slight.

Nothing like the sight of our government preening and declaring the moral high ground while letting enlisted men and lower officers take the fall for travesties like Abu Ghraib.

Kristian Menchaca (1987-2006)

6/27/2006 8:55 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

That was actually more an American thing than an Inquisition thing. We and the Scots were interested in witches. The Inquisition was mostly interested in heretics, particularly Jews who had converted (usually under duress) and secretly maintained Jewish practices. Several of the cases make clear that some of these practices were simply that that was how the person learned to cook or other cultural holdover (the grandchild of a convert cutting the sciatic nerve out of pork, for instance.) I do the whole only watching PBS thing, too, though when Dad goes again, I'll probably stop watching any form of news, whatsoever.

6/27/2006 10:28 AM  
Blogger Thee, Hannah! said...

Oh, I know. I think the English may have dunked a bit, too, but I believe it was mostly American. Sorry, I should have been more specific.

6/27/2006 1:04 PM  

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