Monday, February 09, 2009

On torture

“The putting men to the rack is a dangerous invention, and seems to be rather a trial of patience than of truth. Both he who has the fortitude to endure it conceals the truth, and he who has not: for why should pain sooner make me confess what really is, than force me to say what is not? And, on the contrary, if he who is not guilty of that whereof he is accused, has the courage to undergo those torments, why should not he who is guilty have the same, so fair a reward as life being in his prospect?” (Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Essays, II-5)
Through the ages people who had been accused of a crime have often been tortured in order to make them confess; or people were tortured in order to make them tell secrets which they might know. Montaigne, who has been a judge in Bordeaux, knew everything about it, but he was clearly against this practice. It was ineffective and he had an aversion to it.
One might think that in the Western countries, which consider themselves enlightened and civilized, this cruel practice, which is against all values they defend, might have gone. However, nothing less is true. Even today, the country that says to stand for the highest values of humanity and democracy seems to think not be able to do without this cruelty, and in order to avoid the application of its own high judicial standards on its own soil, the practice of torturing was done outside its borders in an odd corner of the world: Guantanamo, approved by its highest representative: the president.
However, happily the times do change sometimes. It is true, the expectations of what the new president will bring about are so high, that it will be difficult for him to meet them. But one thing is clear: he takes the values where his country stands for seriously and his first step in office was to start the procedure to close Guantanamo. I do not know whether president Obama has heard of Montaigne and whether he knows what Montaigne has written on torture, but there is one thing he surely knows: torture is not only against all values of humanity, but you simply do not do it for it is a humiliation of yourself and all values you stand for, even if it would be effective and Montaigne was wrong as for this.

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