America needs an annual Day of Atonement


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Is there a line beyond which you will not go? A line beyond which you will not tolerate something being done in your name?

We have become a nation that practices torture.

Americans have a day to celebrate Independence, a day for Thanksgiving, and we just observed our annual day of Remembrance. I believe we also need a Day of Atonement.

Jews have a Day of Atonement. They call it "Yom Kippur," and it is considered the holiest day of the year. That's what this country needs?#34;a day of humility, coming to our senses, realizing that we have things to atone for. Things done in our name.

We have become a nation that condones torture.

We have never fully acknowledged, or atoned for, our treatment of Native Americans, slavery, McCarthyism, Vietnam, Kent State. Now add to the list Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan.

Is there a line beyond which you will not tolerate something being done in your name? If we can't draw that line, who are we? What do we stand for? Besides our own survival, that is, no matter what it takes.

"Oh, it's not that bad," say the apologists and rationalizers. "We're just playing a little hardball with terrorists to get some intelligence, just breaking them down. We're only using a little torture. Don't worry, we're so righteous, we can handle it. It won't get out of hand."

A little torture is like a little cancer. It spreads. A little torture is like a little evil. It grows.

Instead of drawing a line, we've redefined torture. Our new attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, the nation's top law enforcement official, was, in his previous position, given the task of officially "redefining" torture after Sept. 11. Anything that doesn't cause "major organ failure or death," he wrote, was acceptable.

Is it OK with you if our government tortures prisoners in our name? If they use sexual humiliation, desecration of the Koran, physical and psychological abuse, murder? It is if you remain silent. "Silence gives consent," said Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, calling it one of the bedrock principles of law. Is it OK with you that hundreds of mostly innocent people were rounded up and sent to a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba (whose government we're always condemning for human rights violations) without the protections of due process? Some have since been dumped in foreign countries, some are still there almost four years later, and, according to Thomas Friedman, a moderately conservative columnist with the New York Times who originally supported the war in Iraq, at least 100 prisoners have died in what Amnesty International calls our "gulags."

Don't these qualify, at the very least, as human rights violations? Are they consistent with your understanding of American ideals?

Our silence gives consent to all of it. Are we the good guys or the bad guys? Are we allowed to act like the bad guys for a while in certain situations?#34;like whenever we feel threatened? Can you justify torture under extraordinary circumstances?

Because if you can justify torture under any circumstances, then you can justify anything.

We are now a nation that justifies torture.

We are now a nation that gives consent with our silence.

Denial does not preserve our innocence. "Our government would never do anything to compromise our integrity." So said all the good Germans in the 1930s and '40s. All it takes to allow evil to flourish is for good people to say nothing.

Silence gives consent.

Denial gives permission.

We have become a nation that practices torture.

Is that OK with you? Don't dodge the question, answer it. The nation's very soul is at stake here.

We need a national Day of Atonement.

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