09 March 2008

What if everyone saw Taxi to the Dark Side today?

The New York Times has a front-page story today about Bush's veto of a bill that would have stopped the Central Intelligence Agency from using "interrogation methods like waterboarding." I'm so mad I could spit in Bush's eye. Can't we still impeach the guy? Wouldn't it be great to turn ahead all those "Bush's Last Day" clocks?

I'd really like to know whether, if every member of Congress and the US Senate saw the film Taxi to the Dark Side today, would they a) override the veto and b) move to impeach George W and Co.? Perhaps I'm more optimistic about the power of film than I am pessimistic about the powerful impetus of inertia, but I think it would make a difference.

What outrages me most in reading this story today is that all Bush says in his defense is that having "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a term that is to "torture" as "ethnic cleansing" is to "genocide") is necessary for deterring terrorists. He even says they have prevented additional terrorist acts against westerners, adding, "And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe." (To which US Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia responds, "As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack.")

I see two big, fat problems with Bush's argument. First, isn't it akin to saying capital punishment is effective at deterring people from murdering other people? Not only is that difficult to prove, but some argue that capital punishment actually increases murder rates (more on "brutalization theory" below). Second, what about habeas corpus? What about the principles on which this country was founded -- the right to a fair and speedy trial to establish innocence or guilt before deciding whether punitive measures should be undertaken? The people Bush labels "terrorists" are, as we know now, not always what they are presumed to be. This is what makes Dilawar's story so painful to watch in Taxi to the Dark Side. Dilawar was a taxi driver who was captured and tortured on the presumption that he had valuable information. His abusive treatment in the five days between his incarceration at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and his death as a result of the injuries he sustained at the hands of US troops and military contractors distorted his consciousness to such an extent that he could not possibly have provided any useful information, even if he'd had any to begin with, according to the experts interviewed in the documentary.

Another danger of this blind pursuit of Executive Branch powers is that it may have the opposite effect of turning our country and its people into even bigger targets. The "brutalization effect" I mentioned in the last paragraph argues that the devaluation of human beings that occurs in states that kill capital offenders results in a broader, institutionalized devaluation of humanity that in turn results in more murders. Not only that, but people like Dilawar become martyrs in their communities, which may well draw more angry extremists to pursue retaliatory violence against us and those who carry out our brutal policies.

To me it is clear that, as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi have said, violence cannot solve these problems. We have to pursue other, more humane, more creative solutions, or we all suffer more as a result.

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