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King: Torture is not just for the bad guys
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What kind of a person are you? Christians may describe themselves as sinners, but they don't actually mean they're bad people. Quite the contrary. And when we say we are a Christian nation, we mean we are a moral, law-abiding people.

Or let's suppose we are of some other faith or maybe no faith at all. We still claim to be good ordinary people. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our country. That's fine; we should, but there two sides to good people. We are all flawed, and unless we understand these flaws there is little hope for salvation, spiritually or materially.

I was a young impressionable child during World War II. I read comic books and went to the movies. Germany and Japan were the enemy. They did horrible things. They tortured people. Of course America and its allies didn't do anything like that. There was absolutely no question in my mind. We were the good guys.

Over the years, I lost much of that innocence. I was not so much shocked as saddened when memos about American's own torture programs began to leak out. The question apparently was no longer, did America torture, but was the torture justified? Did it save American lives? Many good, law-abiding people thought it was, and it did.

So much for Germany and Japan's atrocities during WWII. They too thought they were justified. War does that to people, and torture, like war, has a long history. Legalized torture has existed in democracies since Greek and Roman times. American prisons developed a system of interrogation using electricity early in the 20th century. Torture techniques used in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were imported from China, the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states.

In "The Long Shadow of Torture," author Darius Rejali, one of the world's leading experts on torture, comments on the nature of those who practice it. What shocked him, he says, is how educated, sophisticated and socially acceptable they were.

"Everybody expects that when evil walks in the door it's going to have horns and a tail (but when) evil walks in the door it usually has a good French education or American education and invites you out for a beer and is very friendly."

But why bring this up now? Remember my question: What kind of person are you? For example, do you believe torture is sometimes necessary for national security? We do have a number of studies that say it doesn't work, but that begs the question. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn't. But even if it does, what happens to the people who practices it and the nation that allows it?

People are what they do, not how they look, or what kind of title they hold. To torture another individual is to exercise absolute power over him, and that kind of power corrupts, whether it's practiced by an individual or a nation.

According to a senior faculty member at New York University Medical School, "There is a lot of evidence that ... torture programs at the CIA, Guantanamo and the Department of Defense were created and overseen by U.S. health professionals, particularly psychologists." Now one of this group claims he was invited to serve on a White House Task Force program entitled Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family.

The man is Dr. Larry James. He was the chief psychologist at Guantanamo in 2003 and at Abu Ghraib in 2004. Presently, he's the dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University. It was James who made the announcement, not the White House. When questioned, the White House said James was a member of two organizations they'd invited but that he'd not been asked to serve in any capacity. Let's hope so.

There's something very disturbing about a man who practiced Enhanced Interrogation on prisoners being associated with a program called Enhanced Psychological Well-Being for the Military.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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