Is War Glorified Torture?

by kris bishop on February 17, 2009

excerpt from “Abandoning Torture but What About War?” by Dave Swanson

If we can move beyond torture, do we not have a responsibility also to think for a moment about the obvious fact that torture is not the cruelest thing we do? Torture offends us, in part, because the torturer is not at risk, but neither are most pilots dropping bombs. And how exactly does the risk taken by ground troops mitigate the suffering of those they wound, kill, and terrorize?

One book I find helpful in this is “Sacred Violence: Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty,” by Paul Kahn, an exploration of how those who support torture and war tend to think. In Kahn’s interpretation, many modern westerners make exceptions to the rule of law for the rule of sovereignty, or nationalism. We place in the flag and the body politic (not to mention the imperial president) a sacred importance once given to royalty, and we treat terrorism as an act of war rather than a crime because it is an affront to our nation. We give ultimate value to the military act of sacrificing one’s life in order to take the lives of those who fail to worship at the god of the Stars and Stripes.

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Kahn’s claim is that this same faith-based thinking exists today and drives the decisions of those who support torture, Guantanamo, and war.

Paul W. Kahn is Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities at Yale Law School and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights.

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