(Updated 12/22) A Moral Paradox on Torture: Engel, El-Masri, and Zero Dark Thirty

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By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

As we start the limited release today in some markets of Zero Dark Thirty, the National Religous Coalition Against Torture has called for the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report and has a sign-up page to write to or call Obama at http://www.nrcat.org/about-us/nrcat-press-releases/713-national-interfaith-coalition-calls-for-public-release-of-torture-report-findings. They specifically mention Zero Dark Thirty coming out as a reason for the need to have the report released.

As I sit watching the Rachel Maddow Show showing a report on the foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his team being released by an Assad militia after a 5 day kidnapping in Syria, I have one more of those contradictory paradoxical moments. His description of being blindfolded and the fear and uncertainTy experienced echo to me with the story of Khalid El-Masri – another innocent – kidnapped in Macedonia by the CiA and tortured there and flown to Assad’s Syria to be tortured FOR MONTHS in my name as an American and on the instructions of the real life “Maya.”

(Updated 12/22 – In reading a piece by Maher Arar over at AlJazeera (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/20121220134123502507.html) in which he describes El-Masri as having been sent to Afghanistan – not to Assad’s Syria as Arar was sent by the CIA in the torture program, I have to correct an error in this post.  This error makes the moral silence of so many Americans particularly worse.  Arar, after all, was coming in at JFK Airport when he was whisked away by US officials and rendered to Syria to be tortured.  El-Masri, another innocent, was tortured by the CIA at the Macedonian airport as the European Court of Human Rights opinion of December 13, 2012 describes, and then whisked away to Afghanistan where he was tortured by Americans or people completely within the control of the American intelligence and military people on the ground.  And both of these people who were kidnapped like Richard Engel and his team were not disappeared for five days but for months on end.  The lack of qualms about this reflects an American nihilism I saw so aptly presented by a commentator on Martin Bashir’s MSNBC show on Thursday who took the Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes approach saying essentially, “I do not need to know.” An abdication of citizen responsibility is not good enough.) 

Something to think about if you are in line at a theater in DC or another town looking forward to watching some physical and psychological torture as entertainment.