Torture is practiced in national and state governments. This we know. What we need to know is how we can respond to this horror. The Quaker Initiative Against Torture (QUIT) and the National Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) help us to address this question.
Looking at torture is risky business. It moves us to thinking about the unthinkable. With the pictures from Abu Ghraib, we shed the illusion that torture was something done by people in the past or that it was done by other people. Today we are learning that torture cannot be considered an isolated or aberrant act. Realizing that torture is practiced in our backyards, in our prisons, not just in black holes in some unknown places overseas, may inform but also may overwhelm us. What can be done? Realizing that torture includes not only water boarding but solitary confinement for months and years may teach us how pervasive and varied this practice is. Listening to public servants speak as if they are not sure that water boarding is torture warns us how pervasive and acceptable the justifications for torture have become in this culture. But still we ask what can be done.
Left unanswered this question forces good people to sink into resignation. And this is why QUIT and NRCAT are important.
Acting for the sake of the tortured may not be the only reason for supporting QUIT and NRCAT. Today we are coming to a place where the unthinkable continues to force itself upon us. Denial and evasion offer refuge; the mechanisms are readily provided us. But denial costs us too. What am I saying when I say that torture is there in all its manifestations but that is the way the world works? We may grasp for justifications: our public servants protect us by torturing people; torture for some is a small price to pay so that we can sleep soundly; torture isn’t so bad if it does not leave permanent physical damage. But the justifications fall short of justification. Inevitably beneath the rationalizations questions remain to haunt us. What kind of world do we create for ourselves and our children when we accept torture as a part of our lives? Once we accepted and justified child abuse as necessary for the child’s welfare. We don’t any more. We can remember good citizens in another place and recent time who retreated from the horrors before them by pretending ignorance. But pretending may mean knowing somewhere in our consciousness. Can we allow torture by proxy without damaging ourselves?
And this is why supporting QUIT and NRCAT may be important for our good health. By supporting these two groups, we do so not only for the faceless, nameless person in orange suit in Springfield or in Guantanamo. We do it for ourselves and for our children. Friends meetings, including Chicago’s 57th Street, have joined with a broad spectrum of faith groups to endorse NRCAT. The times call for others to face this crisis of conscience openly