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The toxic residue of torture

Deepak Chopra


Monday, May 4, 2009



It seems clear that the question of torture won't go away. It would be easier to talk about moving ahead. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo belong in nightmares. As a physician, my personal nightmare is of the doctors who stood by during torture sessions to monitor the victim's vital signs. This was supposed to be humane, but what about the Hippocratic oath, which says that a doctor shall do no harm? Is making sure that waterboarding doesn't cause a heart attack doing no harm? The whole rationale is grotesque.


This is one of those moments when painful truth is the only way to heal.



People don't want to hear about bad things from the past when the present is loaded down with more than enough bad things. But inconvenience and fatigue aren't good excuses. There is anger from the left and not just the left about an inexcusable Bush policy. There are demons in the closet, and shutting the door on them won't make them go away. Better to deal with it now, when a new president's idealism is still fresh. It will take idealism to face the torture issue. Otherwise, any truth commission will either turn into a vengeance squad or go the other way and sweep too much under the rug.



The more the right wing tries to justify the torture policy, the worse they look. Using national security to justify torture is just a bald-faced attempt to hide the truth. What really went on was simple. The Bush administration felt that Al-Qaida could not be defeated while still preserving what America stands for.



Now we have a President and the world has a leader who believes the opposite. Obama has stated that the terrorists can be defeated using methods that don't betray the core values of our country. I think he's right. He has to be. A country that resorts to torture has lost the battle to begin with. Not only was torture not effective (it yielded little that regular interrogation couldn't achieve) but even if it was effective, the damage done to America's standing in the world was far greater. What torture mainly does is provide a huge boost in recruitment for Al-Qaeda.



If the truth sets you free, then let's have a truth commission as a first step. Lay everything out, however painful. The aim should not be punishment but detoxification. The toxic residue of Bush-era policies hasn't been cleansed; healing hasn't replaced bitter resentment. Not only should the right wing and the war-makers tell the truth, but so should those politicians, including Democrats, who passively went along with what their conscience told them was dead wrong.



Then let's see where the truth leads us. There is no pro-torture side on this issue. "America does not torture" was the slogan of the Bush administration as well as the current administration. Now we need to expose how honest and sincere those words are. The road away from torture is the road back to America. Can we all agree on that?


Deepak Chopra is the author of over 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his most recent novel, "Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment," available now at


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