As I sat through the movie "Zero Dark Thirty," I shut my eyes in some of the "interrogation" scenes and reflected on the debate surrounding the movie. Some have said the movie shows torture did help in finding Osama bin Laden. Others have said the film reveals that torture really wasn't instrumental in tracking him down. To quote Hillary Clinton (on another topic), does it really matter???
Torture has no place in a civilized society. No matter the success or means to achieve a good end, torture (or as some leaders referred to it, enhanced interrogation techniques) reflects our darkest impulses and pulls all of us in this democracy to a dark place.
Would we as a society tolerate this kind of torture of our own citizens? I think not. Do we really deep down find that this behavior makes us a better people? I sure hope not. As I watched other folks in the theater in downtown Austin turn away at the water boarding and other torture techniques, I thought to myself if we have to turn away watching a movie then doesn't that really tell us that this is wrong, no matter all the rationalization about it helping to save lives and track terrorists.
I also thought about my son who served in the army for five years who speaks Arabic and actually looks a good bit like the main terrorist character (when he hasn't shaved for a bit) who was tortured through most of the first half of the movie. It turned my stomach to think of my son tied up like that or treated like that by some tribal group in Iraq (where he was deployed for nearly a year and a half) who might think he was the aggressor in their country.
Putting my son in that terrorist's place just for a moment actually opened a truth for me. If we believe as underlined in the movie "Lincoln" and in President Obama's Inaugural Address, that it is a self-evident truth that "all men are created equal," then how can we as a free compassionate "Christian" nation allow this to go on. Does "all men" just stop at our shores? Does it stop when some person or group does something horrendous to us? It is not in the niceties that our values are tested, but when something horrible and awful and undeserved happens that we truly know who we are.
The debate surrounding "Zero Dark Thirty" shouldn't be about whether the means of torture actually helped in achieving the good end of tracking down bin Laden. It should really be about whether any good ends justify use of means we would never accept or tolerate on our citizens. In the end, it is the means with which we live life or the means in which our society and leaders act, that will determine what we will end up like in this great journey of life.
I am not arguing that we don't have a right to defend ourselves and fight back when innocents are threatened. I come from a large Irish Catholic family in Detroit who deeply believes in protecting each other and the vulnerable in our society. In fact, I have one brother who retired from the Coast Guard and one who served in the Marines, as well as my son who enlisted on his own as a 19-year-old.
I am just saying that if for a moment you closed your eyes in the awful torture scenes and put your son or daughter in the place of that terrorist or a brother or sister or a niece or nephew, would you think those were acceptable techniques to extract information. I believe we as a people are better than that, and if we really believe that "whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto Me," then we deep down know the answer. Civil liberty and decency and justice are meant for all men and women. And each person in the world is our sister and brother or son and daughter.