Friday, May 18, 2007

The Disappeareds

Click here for a fascinating, horrifying, and touching word-and-visual slide show, on, that deals with how to memorialize those who have been "disappeared."

The crimes of those who are snatched by government or paragovernment units and imprisoned or killed are stunningly difficult to address: How do you prove the crime when, by definition, the victim has disappeared. It's a legal horror, but it's an even greater assault on humanity. Professor Bill Cavanaugh dealt with that profoundly in his doctoral dissertation at Duke, later published as Torture and Eucharist.

Christians must learn about this tactic, its history and practice through the world. And American Christians must reflect seriously on the phenomenon because it is practiced by our government. The whole "enemy combatant" designation, along with the ultra-secrecy of homeland-security law, is premised on making some people simply disappear, never to be heard from again. If we deny any knowledge of someone we hold in detention, if we arrest and deny contact with outside counsel, if we ...

It is no longer necessary to say "if" because our government does it. And we USAmerican Christians should speak up to stop this -- when practiced by our government and when supported or not opposed by our government. We must speak the Truth to caesar.

I was struck, during the recent debate among Republicans running for President, by this: John McCain spoke against torture. Now, even I (who distrust him in the extreme) acknowledge that on this, he has moral and personal authority to speak. He aptly characterized the arguments over whether to torture as "not about them" but "as about us -- who and what we are as a culture." His comments were met with utter, and I mean complete, silence by the crowd assembled. On the other hand, when Mitt Romney began calling for even more torture, he was wildly cheered in the middle of his remark. That was a chilling and frightening moment for me.

I confess to a guilty pleasure: I watch the TV serial, 24. Now, this is a show that I ought to hate -- and I actually just burn with anger during the show. It is produced by an ultra-right-winger (profiled in a long recent article in The New Yorker) who wants the very things the show toys with -- pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Arab countries, racial profiling of (and indeed outright racism against) Arabs, torture at the whim of covert operatives, suspension of civil liberties for the sake of protecting our liberty (you figure that one out). And all of that gets acted out in fascinating, psychological, and gory detail.

Curiously, the show demonstrates the futility and wrongness of the very things its producer wants to promote. Torture, so far as I have seen, has produced no good results: The one being tortured gives the torturer what he thinks the torturer wants to know, not the truth. The "good guys" end up being deluded; many of the Arabs are shown to be patriots.

Maybe the producer was spoofing in the TNY article; perhaps he's really a liberal radical in camoflage clothes. But I find it fascinating that the pattern to this cultural icon is so clear.

Is this perhaps an illustration of the Christian assertion that Truth Will Out?

With respect to torture and disappeareds, the Truth Will Out. That which is hidden will be revealed; those who are lost will be found and reclaimed. We know that because there was One who was tortured and killed (apparently legally within the constraints of the law of his day), but who was not abandoned to death by the One who sent him. Biology is not destiny, and neither is any of the tricks we try to pull to secure our position in this world.


Camassia said...

I've never seen 24, but could the failures of torture be driven by the need to keep the plot twisting? After all, if the heroes can get good information that easily then there wouldn't be as much suspense. (Generally in Hollywood, I think political convictions take a back seat to the demands of entertainment.)

Dwight P. said...

I don't deny that that may be the operative function. I just delight that the overall impression that the series leaves is that torture doesn't work. That the show's producer thinks otherwise is sweet irony -- sweet, because he's being undercut.