Torture, Corruption and Religion

Article excerpt


In 1943, in the Gestapo headquarters in Paris, "Frenchmen were screaming in agony and pain: all France could hear them. .. Only one thing seemed impossible in any circumstances: that one day men should be made to scream by those acting in our name." So wrote French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in an essay attached to the English translation of Henri Alleg's book, "The Question." Satre's words echo throughout America today.

In 1963, France was fighting a terrorist movement in its Algerian colony. French military commanders ordered to destroy the terrorists decided they had to employ torture to do so. Sound familiar? Mr. Alleg, a French journalist in Algiers was arrested and tortured. Between his torture sessions, in tiny handwritten notes smuggled out of his prison, he so vividly described his torture that the New York Times recommended the book be read but only by people "with strong stomachs."

Torture and terrorism share a common parent noble cause corruption, doing evil for a worthy, noble reason. The terrorist kills for good the oppressed Arab masses, to free the Palestinians, to drive the infidel from sacred land, to stop abortion. We torture for good, in self-defense against vicious coldblooded people who will kill us in a moment. The mindset is the same. Christianity and all the world's major religions tell us that to do evil to create good is wrong.

Sartre, the Existentialist, atheist philosopher and author, continued: "If nothing can protect a nation against itself, neither its traditions nor its loyalties nor its laws, and if 15 years are enough to transform victims into executioners, then its behavior is no more than a matter of opportunity and occasion. Anybody at anytime, may equally find himself a victim or executioner."

Little has been said about the effect of torture on the torturers. First, exactly what is torture? It is the intentional, systematic use of cruelty, hatred and barbarity on another human being. According to Sartre, the purpose of torture is "not only to make a person talk but to make him betray others. The victim must turn himself by his screams and by his submission into a lower animal, in the eyes of all and in his own eyes. His betrayal must destroy him and take away his human dignity."

Most of us find it difficult to watch another human being suffer. We run from the graphic display of suffering and pain. Some, such as emergency response personnel, learn to overcome this initial reaction and can take the next step, the natural impulse to do something to alleviate the pain and suffering we see.

There are a few who delight in seeing another human suffer. We call them sadists. Mental health professionals consider sadism a perversion. The torturers are sadists of a moment. They too overcome the human repulsion to pain and suffering. The urge to alleviate misery is suppressed. …