I heard a story in the news today that the U.S. Senate was considering a bill to outlaw torture. They should most definitely do so. I’ve weighed in on the torture debate several times, and my feelings are unequivocal: the United States should not torture. The Senate now has a chance to put that into action.
President Obama, to his credit, issued an executive ban on the official use of torture as soon as he came into office. But that can be overturned anytime by a new President. That the United States will no longer torture should be enshrined in law.
I know there are people who believe that September 11 and the perceived exigency to stop
future terrorism attacks justifies torture in the mind of many. But to use a quote which may have been mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill — although it fits here — then what are we fighting for?
The September 11 attacks were awful for many of us individually, and awful collectively for our psyche. About 2,977 civilians, most of them Americans, perished that day. In a country of what was then about 285 million. That same year 42,196 lost their lives in traffic accidents. Or a little bit more than fourteen times more people killed in traffic accidents then were killed in the September 11 attacks.
I’m not suggesting that we ban cars. I am suggesting that we gain some perspective. We have not had a war on our own soil since the civil war ended in 1865, a little more than 150 years ago. Since then, we’ve had two major attacks on our country that killed significant numbers: the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941 which killed 2403, and the September 11 attacks in 2001 which killed 2,977. That’s not nothing. But it is very little compared to how many people were killed in Iraq in the last few decades, or how many Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War.
By comparison we have:
- September 11 2,977 killed in a population of about 285 million, or about 0.001%
- Vietnam 1,313,000 killed in a population of 43.085 million, or about 3.047%
- Iraq 654,965 killed since 2003 of 31.234 million, or about 2.097%
So while our tragedy was real, especially for the families involved, by comparison to Vietnam or Iraq, our tragedy was small.Their countries were largely destroyed. We lost a couple of tall towers. Again, I’m not trying to minimize or make light of it, I just want to compare. I
personally don’t know a single person who lost their life on September 11. And yet, based on this single incident, this one day, we’ve felt justify to transgress against the fundamentals of our own moral values, and to torture prisoners for information.
Even though it’s well established that torture is a highly unreliable way of getting information.
Even though it’s well established that torture is a war crime.
It should be absolutely clear that we should never torture again. We should enshrine into law (if not into our Constitution) that we will never torture again. The Senate bill, at a minimum, is a small step in that direction.