Jailing by Example

Manfred Nowak, the United Nations investigator on torture, told reporters this week that governments around the world respond to criticism of their inhumane jails by saying they handle their prisoners the same way the United States does. 

How mortifying, how shameful it is to be a citizen of a country that once was considered the pioneer of human rights, a country whose reputation around the globe was as the leading defender of liberty and justice — and is now held up as a collaborative role model by countries like Jordan, where torture and other stains upon the human spirit are a part of everyday life.

The logic is hard to argue: If we’re a nation that’s cooperating with United States on their “war on terrorism,” and if the United States is operating secret jails where due process has been suspended and harsh treatment of prisoners is the preferred method of interrogation, how can the international community tell us we’re wrong to abuse our inmates? If it’s OK for the great USA, why not everyone else?

Our country is not safer because of these policies, which contradict the essential notions that our republic was built upon. We’re closer than ever to becoming a nation of barbarians, where respect for the individual is a fanciful concept best left to fairy tales. What exactly makes us better, more noble, more Christian — more American — than those who treat human beings as disposable pawns in a heartless game of power-grabbing?

We have lost our way.

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