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A Space Traveler Visits The Torture State

 By Malcolm Shore

 Dear Readers,
 
I received a letter this morning from a visitor who hails from far beyond our planet. Naturally, I wanted to share it with you
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May 15, “2009”
Greetings Earthlings,
 
I am a visitor from planet Conscience. I have raced at warp speed through galaxies of nihilism, paralysis, and moral ambiguity to reach you. It has been a turbulent journey, to say the least, and I am quite nauseous. However, the stakes are high, and I must deliver an urgent message: FOR THE LOVE OF THE COSMOS, EARTHLINGS, PLEASE….WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!”
 
Forgive me, I get a bit worked up. Let me calm down a bit and explain myself. For some time, I had been trying to muster the courage to visit planet Earth, but I always kept losing my nerve. You’ll understand, I hope, that the thought of visiting a world where millions of citizens die horrific deaths and billions starve—for no good reason at all—was a bit terrifying to me. 
 
Don’t get me wrong, Earth certainly has its moments. For one thing, your citizens have a tremendous sense of humor!    In particular, I’ve been a longtime fan of this great comedy show called “Elections.”  On the show, there is this superpower called the “United States of America” that Earthlings have long despised because it always goes around bombing innocent people to death, raping them, torturing them, and ravaging their countries.   But then, every few years, America tries to make up for it by holding these giant carnivals called “elections.” There’s singing, dancing, yelling, and at the end of this big carnival —which sometimes lasts up to 2 years—the citizens of America go into this weird box behind this curtain and play with a slot machine that ends up deciding who wins the carnival. Whoever wins the carnival gets to rule America. When it’s all over, everyone says something like, “Man, wasn’t that the best carnival ever? I can’t wait for the next one! America rules!”    
 I don’t pretend to understand it all. But man, I was laughing my ass off!
 
I remember this one episode of “Elections” from 9 years ago. This evil clown and a bunch of vampires are trying to win the carnival and rule America. Only this robot starts imitating everything they are saying, and he ends up beating the evil clown and the vampires.   But he’s just a robot! So the evil clown and the vampires declare themselves the winners of the carnival, push the robot aside, and take over America anyway. Before long, just as the vampires are getting restless and hungry for blood, America gets attacked.  They all get together in this mansion called the White House and say, “Great news! More blood for everyone!”   But one of the vampires responds, “Yeah, but won’t people notice if we just go around sucking all this blood? What are we going to tell people?” And then the camera cuts to the evil clown going on TV and saying, “They hate us for our freedoms.” 
 
Priceless! Oh my goodness, I was laughing so hard I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Who writes this stuff anyway? 
 
The evil clown and the vampires end up being in charge for 8 years. And during those 8 years, the evil clown keeps sending the vampires around the world to suck blood and bring some back for him. While all this is happening, the evil clown goes on television and tells jokes about it!   But the vampires suck so much blood around the world that even many citizens of America start to hate them and the evil clown. Then, about four years ago, there was this huge flood in America, and thousands of people drowned.  The evil clown and vampires let it all happen because the people drowning were Black.  And, once again, the evil clown just went on television and told jokes about it.
 
Then people REALLY hated the evil clown and the vampires.
 
There was a lot of tension there for a few seasons— on screen and off. The fighting on the set got so bad, it even looked like the networks might cancel “Elections.” But then, about two, three years ago, everything started to turn around for the show.  There was this one scene I remember – this guy dressed as Superman is meeting with a bunch of people, and one guy was like, “Look, people are starting to hate America.” And somebody else said, “Yeah, well, what else is new?”   And the other guy says, “Yeah, but I mean really hate America. Even in America.”   There was this long pause, and then Superman pipes up and says: “We only have one choice. We have to throw the best carnival ever! And we better start planning for it now.”
 
The whole room erupts in laughter. But then the camera zooms back to Superman, and he isn’t laughing at all.  He says, “I’m serious.”    Superman ends up winning the carnival and ruling America.  
 
I would say the best episode of the whole series was the one where Superman starts planning for the carnival, and trying to come up with a slogan for why he should rule America.  He says to his partner, “What am I going to do? I have to do something really different from the evil clown and the vampires or else I’ll never win the carnival.”    So his partner says, “Well, why don’t you just do everything the opposite of what they did?”   So Superman says, “You mean like stop killing, raping, and torturing people all over the world?” 
 
 There’s this really long pause, and then Superman just busts up laughing for like five minutes straight, and his partner does too. Finally, Superman gets real serious again, and stops smiling.
 
“I’ve got it!” Superman says. “I’ll just tell people I’m going to do the opposite of what the evil clown and the vampires did. But I’ll really do the same thing.”
 
“No, no, that couldn’t p-p-possibly,” his partner stammers. “You think that could work?”
 
“This is America,” Superman answers. “I know it will work.”
 
The camera cuts to Superman giving a speech at the carnival in front of this banner with his new slogan: “Change you can believe in.”    And the citizens of America are cheering like crazy.  They love their country again. I nearly hyperventilated from laughter when I saw that! Say what you will about Earthlings, but they are some creative people!
 
OK, but I digress. Why am I spending so much time describing the show to you? You’ve seen every season of it! Anyway, now is not the time for comedy. As I was starting to say, I came to Earth today with a very serious message.
 
 I am very concerned, Earthlings.  Very concerned.  So concerned that I couldn’t stay trapped on planet Conscience anymore; I had to screw up the courage to come and visit you. I’ll tell you what the last straw was: On Thursday, May 14 I received my daily transmission of a newspaper you earthlings call the New York Times. As I was flipping through the pages, huge bold type caught my attention, and my eyes suddenly fixed on page A21. The first word I saw, in screaming capital letters, was “TORTURE.”  For whatever reason, my eyes next skipped all the way to the bottom of the page, and the words “TORTURE TRUTH PROJECT.”
 
My initial reaction, earthlings, was relief. You see, I—along with my fellow citizens on planet Conscience—had been closely following the news from your planet since the release of the American torture memos one month ago. We had carefully read and studied the memos, which confirmed in plain English what beings throughout the cosmos have known for a long time: That the leaders of this aforementioned earthly superpower, America, actually put their pens to paper for the express purpose of explaining how to make their fellow human beings suffer excruciating pain—and how to get away with it. Sadly, the residents of planet Conscience have become accustomed to your nations—especially America—committing and openly justifying such brutality. So we were not shocked by these memos. But we were certainly horrified; ashamed, in fact, to inhabit the same universe as creatures monstrous enough to write and practice such criminal deeds.
 
And we were exasperated, earthlings, as we observed the reactions of the Americans  when these memos came out.  Of course, we noticed that many of them called for the sick, cruel tyrants who authored these documents to be prosecuted and locked up. Over the dinner table, we raised a toast to the moral certitude of these brave souls.   But we also watched your television news night after night, and read your newspapers, and we kept hearing about a torture “debate.”    Your talking heads kept asking each other, and asking their audiences: “What did we learn from enhanced interrogation techniques? Did they work? Did they keep us safe?”
 
I wish I could put into words, dear Earthlings, how flabbergasted we on planet Conscience were.  The source of our bafflement was two-fold: First, seeing the words “torture” and “debate” side by side literally did not compute. When we read or heard this phrase, it was like we were trying to decipher the secret language of some ancient society; a society that had existed long before knowledge and morality had advanced to the point where drowning people, slamming them into walls, and shackling them for days at a time with no sleep were universally condemned practices.
 
On our planet, earthlings, there has never been what you call a “torture debate.” Those who torture are punished. Period. No explanation a torturer provided would ever be accepted. In fact, such explanations would not even be listened to. The only relevant question would be whether or not the being in question was guilty of torture; not why they tortured. In fact, if a torturer attempted to explain their actions, that explanation would immediately be classified as a shameful and flimsy attempt to hide their towering crimes. 
 
The second thing that confused the residents of planet Conscience was the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.”   Please understand, earthlings, that we are still trying to master your many languages, and English has often proved to be the most confounding of them all. However, our understanding is that the verb “enhance” basically means to “improve” or “make better.”    When we heard practices such as suffocation by water described as “enhanced,” we honestly thought we had gone insane; that our ears were playing tricks on us. Then we heard the description again. And again.
 
Which bring us back to this ad from your New York Times. When I saw the word “TORTURE” at the top, and the words “Torture Truth Project” at the bottom, I immediately thought: “Finally! An earthling who sees things our way is getting a hearing!”
 
You can imagine the bitter taste in my mouth, then, when I reached the third paragraph of the advertisement in question: “Why is the U.S. News Media Eagerly Spreading an Incalculably Harmful Lie That Can Only Motivate Terrorists To Further Attacks on America? A Grassroots Plea to the U.S. News Media /Stop Misleading the World That Our Country Condones Torture”
 
I read these sentences several times over. Especially the last two—“A Grassroots Plea to the U.S. News Media/Stop Misleading the World That Our Country Condones Torture.”  
 
At long last, earthlings, it seems there are now people on your planet willing to argue that the American media is too quick to condemn the American government, and too eager to classify its abuses as torture. I must confess that my immediate reaction was to wonder: “Is this yet another example of earthlings’ superior sense of humor?”   After all, your acumen for satire is legendary on our planet; The Onion and the Colbert Report are frequently at the center of our water-cooler conversations.
 
Excited by this possibility, my eyes returned to the bottom of the page, expecting to find the signature of one or another master of parody.  And then I saw the words “Accuracy in Media,” and remembered that this was the same ultra-right wing American entity organization that, in 2007, wrote an article defending Senator Joseph McCarthy. 
 
 
My heart sank, as I realized this advertisement was no joke. Not even close. I was stunned. It never even occurred to me, even in these maddening times, that an advertisement from a group calling itself the “Torture Truth Project” would turn out to be a pro-torture ad!
 
It had also never occurred to me that anybody would acknowledge that a government had authorized sleep deprivation; dietary manipulation; facial slaps; attention grasps; facial holds; forced nudity; water dousing; stress positions; cramped confinement in a dark space; confinement with insects; slamming against a wall; wall standing; and waterboarding—for the purposes of arguing that the government in question had nottortured!
 
Earthlings, I was a young child on planet Conscience when someone first told me, “On planet Earth, especially in America, everything is for sale.”
 
After reading this New York Times advertisement, I now know, without a doubt, how true those words must be. Watches are for sale. Cars are for sale. Women are for sale. And now…torture is for sale.
 
Citizens of the planet Earth, I cannot go on any longer, nor write any more, nor do I feel the need to. I want to end this letter with a passionate plea, directed in particular at those who inhabit this cruel, monstrous superpower known as America, which has now broken its own previous record for ravaging your planet:
 
Despite everything I have written here, and everything I have seen and heard from you, I still have hope in your citizens. I still believe that you have the ability to do good, and that the overwhelming majority of you will—under the right circumstances—choose to use that ability. I want to believe that, in the final analysis, you are not so different from the inhabitants of our planet—that, when at last you are face-to-face with the horrendous crimes committed in your names and confronted with the recognition that you must choose either to resist or to take part in these crimes, you will do the right thing.
 
 I know that the overwhelming majority of you do not truly want to live on a planet where anybody, at any time, can be kidnapped, hooded ,stripped, shackled, shoved into a box, suffocated, slammed into walls, and tormented in innumerable other ways for years on end—all in the name of “keeping you safe.”  I know that most of you are as disgusted, as sickened, and as horrified as the residents of our planet when you open up your newspaper to see an advertisement in favor of these practices. I suspect that you have remained passive in the face of these unspeakable horrors because you have been paralyzed—by fear; by individualism; by relativism; by your perception of powerlessness.

Yes, I want to believe. But it’s up to you to make me believe. And let me speak frankly, Earthlings: You have a lot of ground to make up. Quickly.
 
So, in conclusion, let me beg of you: Stop laughing at the evil clown. Stop cowering in the face of vampires. Stop calling Superman to save the day. Stop mimicking the robot.
 
At long last, earthlings, for the love of the cosmos—RESIST! RESIST! RESIST!  
 

 

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.