21 June, 2009

To protect or not to protect

You may remember that there has been some conversation in the USA lately about the use of torture on terrorists, and its moral implications. I guess conversation is the wrong term to use. There was some heated debate at all levels that wrestled with the legitimate concern of how best to protect and defend the state from its enemies.

During this time, a report from the Government Accountability Office was released with multiple examples of abuse and torture by staff within government facilities. It was a report however, on incidents that occurred within public schools. The following information comes from an article ‘Torture in America's Schools’ by James Taranto who highlights the findings of the GAO report. He states that the 10 cases investigated involved children ranging in age from 4 to 14, and eight of the cases occurred at government schools. “The cases involved children with disabilities who were restrained and secluded, often in cases where they were not physically aggressive."

“At a public school in West Virginia, a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and autism "was 'uncooperative,' so teachers restrained her in a chair with multiple leather straps that resembled a 'miniature electric chair.' " The girl was later diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. "At least one of the three teachers responsible" is still at the school.

At a Texas public school, a 230-pound "special education teacher" placed a 129-pound boy of 14 "into a prone restraint and lay on top of him because he would not stay seated." The student died. The case was ruled a homicide but no charges were filed. The teacher "currently teaches in Virginia and is licensed to instruct children with disabilities."

Other cases include a 7 year old purportedly dying after being held face down for hours by school staff, 5 year olds allegedly being tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape by their teacher and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13 year old reportedly hanging himself in a seclusion room after prolonged confinement.”

These cases are both shocking and disgusting. However what I find worse is the reality that the report generated little to no outrage across any sectors of the country at a time when people were so vocal on the issue of torture toward terrorists. How do we comprehend this? The only thing that I can come up with is that people are selfish. Disability effects a relative small percentage of the population, and the rights of those affected are generally disregarded (except for the token mandated stuff we must adhere to like parking spaces and public toilets.) It appears we have not changed much from Biblical times. Hideous injustices occurring to those who are blemished physically? Sounds familiar. And the energy generated on the issue of torture to terrorists is totally understandable, because in some crazy way we have been made to believe that it effects us all very deeply, and closely. After all, terrorists are everywhere, aren’t they? And so we the public take a righteous stand, either for or against the rights of terrorists to be protected from torture.

My point, apart from simply being angry and wanting you to join me in this anger, is that when we look at a situation that is clearly unjust, we must look at the situation from the perspective of the victim, and not from our own personal point of view. Too often we act or remain still based on how the situation affects us. We say “well, I do feel sorry for the Afghans, but we surely can’t let all of them in the country?” We say, “well I do feel sorry for the Sudanese woman being raped, but if we send our troops there, who will protect our interests in the Middle East?” We say, “well I do feel bad for the indigenous who are dying of renal failure because there is limited dialysis in remote parts of the Territory, but we must continue to build better hospitals in the major cities, because that's where I live! (Ok, not many of you say that last one!)

My plea is that we begin to approach vulnerable people, simply because they require our help, and not because we have any vested interest one way or the other. Justice by triage…how would the world look then?

Gen

Article from http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB124412724085285291.html

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