Sunday, April 23, 2006

The wheel chair

When my daughter was younger, there was a pretty young girl in a wheel chair at her school. Every day her father would come to the school and feed her with a spoon. He had been someone of importance in China, here he was a father whose daughter was crippled.

Because some of the students were a little insensitive about current events, my daughter's teacher had him talk to the class about an eight month period in his life. He spent that time in a three foot cube, except for the times they pulled him out to feed him and torture him. Every day, for eight months. Before that, they had tried some things to break his will, such as drugs, toxic in heavy doses, slipped into things, such as cough syrup. Such as the cough syrup he gave his daughter instead of using himself, because her health was more important to him than his own. Whose body mass and health was not strong enough. Who now sits in a wheel chair, making mental progress, but physically unable to feed herself.

Did they think they had good reason to torture him? Was it important? Could it have been justified to cripple his daughter and send him through eight months of electroshock and worse?

Do we have the right to do the same to others, with the same basis that we have good reasons, it is important, and the collateral damage is what it is?

I was just thinking about those things as my daughter asked me about rendition and other topics and the effects of "intimidation" vs. "torture" since the gentle man who spoke to them was clear that the government only wanted information, only wanted to intimidate him, not merely punish or cause him severe pain.

When you think of prayer, pray for our country, where we let such things happen under our aegis. Pray for us, and for those we wrong.


Anonymous said...

Depending on how old the man was it sounds like the cultural revolution that lasted from roughtly the late sixties to the early to mid seventies. And no, what we do to prisioners does not even start to compare to what was done to people back then. Deng Xiaoping's son was pushed out of a sixth story window and he was crippled for life. Teachers and female party members were raped. People were halled up before their communites and "struggled aganst" and beaten over and over again. I could go on.

There is also the question of equivalence. Attacking someone who's only sin was that his father was a landowner or that he was not ideologically pure enough and someone who is dedicated to the mass murder of civilians.

Anonymous said...

Such inhumanity towards man! I think it is too shocking to tell children. I think that they could have helped the children understand compassion without being so graphic. What love though from a man that has been so tortued. Sometimes I think my afflictions harden me when I know that they often soften other people who cannot bear to have others suffer as they suffer. What a humbling example.

Anonymous said...

What a tragic story Stephen. I don't understand why there is a need to compare suffering, Nate T, as though it could ever justify inhumane treatment of another person. If government X, terrorist Y or agency Z acted reprehensibly in the past/present, all the more reason to pray for us to learn from their mistakes and do what we can to avoid them.

Anonymous said...

The crimes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) didn't begin and end with the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution itself was only a way of purging those that remembered and might object to the rampant destruction of the Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1961), when between 10 million and 30 million people were starved to death for no particular reason except that Mao preferred stealing food from people and letting them die to admitting that his 'brilliant' agricultural ideas weren't as good as he claimed.

Even today, the CCP sells the organs of those it executes. When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s, everyone knew that the best time to buy a liver or kidney was before Chinese New Year, since it's an ancient Chinese custom to execute potential trouble-makers before holidays. Dead people don't cause trouble, and besides it's good family fun to go to a stadium and watch a bunch of people get shot in the head. They made the family pay for the bullet - nice touch, wasn't it? But of course the family got none of the proceeds from selling off the body parts.

But in the last few years, China is changing. Thanks to modern business practices, they realized that shooting people through the head damaged valuable inventory (although, for an extra charge, they would shoot people elsewhere to avoid damaging the eyes, if the corneas were to be sold). Now, they use lethal injections, so that they can sell everything. Quality control! They've even adopted just-in-time inventory. For an extra charge, people can have their donor killed to order, although prices and selection are still best before holidays. With the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there will be plenty of spare parts around in another year or so.

Perhaps you'll say that these people probably deserved to die, or else they wouldn't be executed. But in various Strike Hard campaigns against crime, regions are given quotas, and there's pressure to 'solve crimes' quickly. The time from the crime to the execution can be as little as one week during these campaigns - does that sound like time for a fair trial? They like to say that their system is similar to ours, since there is a judge, a prosecutor and a defending lawyer. But the defense lawyer isn't allowed to call witnesses, to question witnesses or even to speak to his client. He's only allowed to plead for clemency during the sentencing phase.

The CCP also has a eugenics policy that involves forced sterilization of undesirable people. And, since those who believe in democracy are sometimes put into mental institutions, they're also likely to be sterilized.

China used to let most little girls in orphanages die, not because the orphanages were underfunded but simply because it seemed a waste to feed spare girls. Now, of course, they sell them instead.

You have a right to disagree with US policies and actions, but I deeply resent the implication that we're morally equivalent to the Chinese Communist Party, the political entity that has easily killed more than 100 million of its own people.

Anonymous said...


I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was saying anything was morally equivalent -- only that torture was wrong regardless of the reason or the justification, which was what the visitor to my daughter's class felt very strongly.

Anonymous said...

by Jason Kuznicki

Radley Balko writes,

In February of last year, I told you about Lester Eugene Siler, a Tennessee man who was literally tortured by five sheriff’s deputies in Campbell County, Tennessee who suspected him of selling drugs. The only reason we know Siler was tortured is because his wife had the good sense to start a recording device about halfway through the ordeal.

The audio is now available online (read the transcript here). Drug war outrages lend themselves to overuse of superlatives. But I gotta say, this may be the most horrifying 40 minutes of audio I’ve ever heard.

The police are attempting to get the illiterate man to sign an admission of guilt without telling him what it says. They beat him, over and over, hook electrodes up to testicles and shock him, threaten to kill him, and threaten to go after his family. Early news accounts reported that the torture continued well beyond the end of the recording. After the tape ran out, the same deputies apparently repeatedly submerged the guy’s head in a fish tank and a bath tub, threatening to drown him unless he confessed.

This guy at worst was a small-time drug dealer. He had no history of violence. Right now, we’re having a national debate about torturing terror suspects with designs on killing everyone in this country (longtime readers might remember I’m a bit conflicted on this issue). But an incident like this (and you’re delusional if you think it was isolated), in which a U.S. citizen who had inflicted no direct harm on anyone was nearly beaten to death, has been barely mentioned outside of Tennessee.

Now, I’ve read transcripts of prisoner interrogations abroad — that is, of people who were suspected terrorists — and the treatment they received was far milder than this. Not a picnic, to be sure, and I admit I had some serious moral qualms about how we treated them. But this was completely horrifying. Totally in a different league. It’s the sort of thing I don’t usually like to discuss here, as there’s no issue to debate, not among decent people, anyway.

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