“That is not who we are” – Barack Obama. Oh Yes it is!

I heard Barack Obama trying to make the best of the CIA torture report released by the Senate yesterday. “One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them. ……… brutal, and as I’ve said before, constituted torture, in my mind. And that’s not who we are.

But of course it is “who we are”. Certainly admitting a self-judged, wrong-doing – after the event – is also part of “who we are”. But the fact of the wrong-doing remains part of the behaviour which constitutes “who we are”. It does not vanish with a subsequent apology.

While behaviour includes what one says, what one does always overrides if the two are in conflict. So, while the US is certainly to be commended on admitting some wrong-doings after the event, it is also quite clear that that behaviour is – at times – quite acceptable. “American Values” clearly do allow torture under certain conditions. Abu Ghraib and My Lai are part of the reality of the behaviour of the US military. Such behaviour is what they are, notwithstanding that the behaviour was later declared to be “wrong”. Those values are ingrained and it is almost certain that some “torture”and some mistreatment of detainees is ongoing right now, to be apologised for later – if revealed. I conclude that torture itself is not against American Values. The Value could actually be formulated thus:

Torture is wrong but permitted, as a last resort, in special circumstances and must be apologised for if later revealed.

The map of all the countries who were complicit – actively or passively – with CIA’s torture program includes most of the countries who speak loudest and most sanctimoniously about human rights. Add to this all the other countries (Russia, China, India, South American countries, …. ) who also use torture in some form, and I come to the conclusion that there is not a single country today where some form of torture (physical as well as mental) is not at least tolerated under some specific conditions. Nobody claims that torture is a “good thing”, but every country also accepts that it can be justified. The concept of “absolute human rights” is fundamentally flawed. The “human rights” that any society is prepared to bestow upon those within or without that society is dynamic and variable.

Currently “what humans are”, all around the world, includes the use of torture – knowing that it is “wrong” – under certain conditions when deemed absolutely necessary.

There are no absolute values either, just as there are no absolute human rights. How should we judge the behaviour of an ISIS executioner with that of a CIA torturer? An ISIS executioner carries out his bloody beheadings in the belief that he is doing “right” in accordance with his values. A CIA torturer carries out his miserable activities knowing that it is “wrong” but that it is in a “good” cause and justified by his values.

I suppose they will both be gathered to the bosoms of their angry gods in their respective heavens.

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2 Responses to ““That is not who we are” – Barack Obama. Oh Yes it is!”

  1. lehautegryphon Says:

    This is always true when human beings are the highest moral arbiter. Some equivocation is inevitable…unless human rights are not a gift bestowed to persons, but a truth inherent to being human. Is our relationship extrinsic to each other (allowing us to do what we want to achieve an end) or intrinsic (constitutive of being). Throughout history, theologies have always argued for the latter worldview, deontological in effect, that the means to an end make it just or unjust. Governments and businesses have held up those values, but embraces teleological activity meaning the ends justify the means. It is this duality that prevents humanity from fully realizing it’s potential.

  2. That’s Not What We Are | Mind the Post Says:

    […] which constitutes “who they are”. It does not vanish with a subsequent apology. In fact, currently “what humans are”, all around the world, includes the use of torture. Even though it is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries, only […]

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