Mark Palermo

On Torture and Torturers
He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives


This letter is in response to an article by X in the Observer of December 8, 2004, titled “Torturing Prisoners of War Shouldn’t Concern US Citizens.” Mr. X’s premise is that because of 9/11, the military’s use of torture is an efficient and justifiable method of achieving our objectives in Iraq and  enhancing our own security. If the situation calls for torture and many people’s lives are at stake, then Mr. X reasons, “screw the human rights aspect of people that live in some third world country half way around the world.”


One has to wonder what difference it would make in terms of human rights whether people live in the third world, or if their country is half way around the world. Is there a hierarchy of countries more deserving of human rights than others? Do some countries deserve less human rights than others presumably because they are poor and their distant voices cannot or will not be heard? Only Mr. X can answer that.


While Mr. X’s advocacy of torture under certain circumstances is obviously rooted in his concern for his fellow Americans, he says “Human rights should go out the window when it comes to a war.” But can those countries who themselves have assumed the role of defenders of human rights practice torture? The ostensible goal of the American military presence is to build democracy and respect for legal standards in a place where there was none. Where does torture fit in?


The fact is that torture has neither made the troops safer nor this nation’s objectives easier. Wars are fought not only on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds of people. Propaganda is vitally important.  The pictures now available all over the Internet of hoodings, beatings, rape, sexual humiliation, and electric shock have given the greatest  propaganda advantage imaginable to Al Qaeda and radical Islamists.


Instead of achieving anything positive, the images have led to an increase in the number of our enemies. The prestigious London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies recently reported that recruitment for Al Qaeda has accelerated and made the world less safe. It estimates worldwide Al Qaeda membership now at 18,000, with 1,000 active in Iraq. The use of torture has divided the US and Britain from their allies; and allies are important because, despite the rantings of talk show hosts, a worldwide campaign against terrorism requires cooperation and coordination between many nations. Even more important, torture has caused both countries an irreparable loss of moral authority, and ultimately weakened the war on terrorism- which may in the long run cost more lives than the dubious gains that came out of brutalizing and humiliating prisoners.


Almost 400,000 Americans of my father’s generation lost their lives in order to set a precedent of human rights and dignity for generations to come. It was a precedent that should not be overridden. The Nuremberg war tribunals of the late 1940’s were the culmination of this process which gave a voice to those who had paid such a tremendous price. Nazi war criminals were tried for horrific medical experimentation on humans, use of slave labor, plunder of private property, mass murder of civilians,  the manufacture of chemical weapons, and of course the widespread torture of POWs. At the trail, the Nazis presented well-constructed rationalizations to explain away their atrocities. But the verdict of those trials demonstrated the moral resolve in the unequivocal repudiation of torture by the free world- as well as a reminder that if individual governments permit individuals to do this, then the world will hold them accountable to a higher moral standard.


If we lose this moral high ground by condoning and codifying the torture of POWs, we will have stumbled toward another Vietnam, where the US forces won every major battle, killed a million people, dropped more bombs on this tiny country than were dropped on all countries in all previous wars in the history of the world, and still went home in defeat.


The founding fathers were no strangers to this question. That’s why they wrote the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment into the Constitution. Of course they could have said that torture could be allowed by police under very special circumstances- in order to insure public safety where many people’s lives are at stake. But they didn’t because they knew where this could lead. Look around at the world today and you will see many countries that   -in the name of internal security- tolerate extrajudicial executions, disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention and, like Mr. X, see the observance and enforcement of human rights as a needless obstacle that hinders their security needs.


Finally, it is debatable that torture works at all. First of all, some people are actually able to withstand it, and the majority of people who cannot will give any answer to their questioners to stop the torment. Moreover, torture corrupts the people who do it. Look closely at the faces of the people in those digital photos from Abu Ghraib. The soldiers are not conducting torture with dispassionate professionalism or a sense of military discipline.  Instead they are smiling sadistically, taking photos, caught up in the situation. Those faces should remind us that the veneer of civilization is indeed thin, and the consequences of removing restraint are unpredictable.


C.G. Jung wrote,” The healthy man does not torture others- generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” Show me a country that passively condones torture – for any reason at all- and I’ll show you a country that you wouldn’t want to live in.

Why torture doesn't work-by General David Irvine