Almost is Not Enough
As in horseshoes, basketball and love, “almost” does not count. It is either a score, or not, in sports. It is in love, or not in love. It is the same with torture. A government that almost tortures does torture. The act debases the individual suffering torture and breaks the law as well. The torture victim spends the rest of their lives trying to make their shame into their glory. Many do not make it. Many never really come back. Many victims do come back but never is the horror forgotten for long.
Looking into one’s own military for criminal violations of abusing prisoners is hard to do. Here in America, the new administration is not hastening to do that for understandable reasons. It is hard. Harder yet, but necessary, is to avoid looking like they are just chasing and embarrassing the predecessors. But looking back is necessary for two reasons; crimes must be researched and pursued (nature of the law) and we must help victims receive justice.
Looking into the daily use of torture around the world will certainly terrify the toughest of us. The abusing governments on every continent always and forever say, “it is necessary for the safety of the nation.” All nations have “good” reasons to torture until the human rights groups show up– probing, asking, looking at wounds, checking with families, speaking with guards and lawyers looking for patterns of torture.
Today in Burma, the military junta is torturing its people. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, won 82% of the votes in the 1990 election. This means she should be Prime Minister of her country. The military placed her under house arrest shortly after this election to prevent her from assuming her role. She is an “almost leader.” There was almost a democracy. But as in horseshoes and basketball and love and torture, almost is not good enough. And the small difference between what should be and what is, has resulted in a human rights crisis. The almost government of Burma is still not representing its people.
Accountability goes with the rule of law, or there eventually is none. If we do believe that torture is necessary in some cases, why not make that a national discussion? Nations have found many ways to handle a human rights crisis. Truth commissions. Presidential pardons. Amnesty after truth. Many nations have found a way to expose the truth and then unite the country around the truth of the past.
A worldwide dialogue with torture victims will bring a tsunami of tears that would wash our shore and embarrass the supporters of torture to no end. Millions are tortured. Some governments call it “physical pressure.” Some call it “getting the truth.” Some know the data gotten from the victim is useless and they know torture is a warning to others, not a device to get correct data. But one must also accept the reality of the victim. The victim always wants the truth to be told. Exceptions are few. When a nation does torture, it joins other nations doing the same. If we eliminate torture and find another way to deal with the offenders, we can join the courageous nations of Chile, Argentina, Rwanda and South Africa who have risen above their horrific pasts to set an example, and finally rid the world of this routine state practice.
Leaders in our country are beginning to wrestle with whether we should prosecute the people of our past. We can find a way to resolve our past and heal our wounds. As we move into the new year, with a new administration and a new outlook on the world, let us work toward “no on torture” both at home and around the world. No more almosts. Almost is not good enough.