Torture and the American way

The story of Maher Arar is one that rightfully inspires terror in us all. A Canadian citizen, Arar was detained and questioned by American authorities while changing planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport back in September of 2002. Two weeks later, Arar was hooded, shackled and shipped to Syria in a private jet, where he was subsequently tortured and starved for several months, treatment that continued long after he confessed to training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

But as it turned out, the authorities had made a mistake: he wasn’t a terrorist after all. A year later, Arar was released and cleared of all wrongdoing; he is now suing the U.S. government. Yet Arar’s story is only one of many. In fact, according to Jane Mayer, writing in the Feb. 14 edition of the New Yorker, the practice of “extraordinary rendition” – or “outsourcing torture” as Mayer’s title bluntly de-euphemizes the phrase – has long been tacit U.S. policy, even before Sept. 11. Since 2001, according to several intelligence officials quoted in Mayer’s piece, the Bush administration has allowed rendition to get “out of control.”

Besides the obvious, one major problem with the runaway policy is that it leaves the government with the question of what to do with the “rendered” suspects once they have outlived their intelligence value. They can’t release them, or try them in court, because the revelations of systematic abuse would be too much of an embarrassment. They can’t simply kill them, either. You torture it, you bought it.

Perhaps that’s why, as the Washington Post reported back in January, the Pentagon is set to construct a global network of Guantanamo-style camps, to be situated in the homes of “friendly” human rights violators strewn across the Middle East, and where the exhausted prisoners will be housed until the Global War on Terrorism has been terminated.

Well, as you might expect, I happen to have a better solution: build the detention centers here in the United States. While it might not solve the torture halve of the equation, it will ensure economic growth and thousands, perhaps even millions of new jobs by setting up such camps here at home the government. There is no reason we should be closing torture chambers here at home and opening them in the Middle East.

Every student at this school is scared to death of the increasingly tight job market in this country. At the same time, the wave of volunteerism and generosity left over from Sept. 11 remains largely unsatisfied. Our generation wants employment, and we want to make a difference. What better way to solve both of these problems then by enlisting to fight on the intelligence front of the War on Terrorism, especially since the Sept. 11 Commission so recently informed us that information will be the key factor in winning this fight. And peaceniks rejoice! Such a bold and extensive interrogation system may very well reduce the need for conventional warfare.

If you’re the squeamish type, fear not; not everyone employed at these hypothetical camps would actually be engaging in torture. The facilities would need an entire infrastructure – guards, desk clerks, janitors, technicians and even psychologists – that would in fact provide the bulk of the employment opportunities.

If some of you are still under the impression that torture is not the American way, then you’ve obviously failed to adjust to the new era we’re living in. Having torture camps in your own backyards, perhaps even working in them yourselves, should ease this transition for you. After all, as the vice president put it shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Global War on Terror is “a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business. We have to operate in that arena.”

Furthermore, by openly embracing a policy of torture, we will have eliminated the contradiction and indeed hypocrisy inherent in the image we project toward the rest of the world. As an Arab League spokesman said in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, torture under Hussein was expected; the fact that Americans would engage in torture while giving lip service to freedom and democracy was “an irony that to my taste is very sickening.” (After all, even if you hate murderous tyrants like Hussein, at least you know where they stand.) Here’s our chance to rid ourselves of this sickening irony once and for all.

It is inconceivable that the U.S. government will be halting its policy of rendition any time soon. As one of the author’s of the famous “torture memos” has been putting it in recent weeks, “the public has had its referendum.” Torture isn’t going anywhere; the best we can hope for as students is to accommodate ourselves to this new reality as honestly as we can.