No Comment — October 26, 2007, 12:17 am

Imaginationland

I had a very full calendar today and was not able to take some time to browse the websites I usually hit until I sat down in the train going home approaching midnight. And then, as happens only very infrequently, I found a post which is simply too important to be a blogpost. It’s an insight into what our nation has become, and how much further it promises to slip. It focuses on the sorts of developments which sit about us and do unrecognized and unthought-about, though at our great peril. It’s offered up as today’s entrée at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. Read it all, twice. But here are some key segments:

My original concern with torture was moral and sprang from Abu Ghraib. It never occurred to me that the US would be doing it before. Poring over all the data, it became simply impossible to deny that Abu Ghraib was not an exception to the rule, but a horrible, predictable result of an existing torture policy that spread beyond the limits Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted. My second concern with torture is that much of our actionable intelligence may have come from it. Think of what that means. Much of it may be as valid as that nuclear bomb in New York City or the notion that Abdallah Higazy was a member of al Qaeda.

We may have entered a world, in other words, where the empirical reality of our national security is less important than the imaginationland that every torture regime will create. We may therefore be sacrificing our liberties for a phantasm created by brutality spawned by terror. We don’t know for sure, of course. But that’s what torture does: it creates a miasma of unknowing, about as dangerous a situation in wartime as one can imagine. This hideous fate was made possible by an inexperienced president with a fundamentalist psyche and a paranoid and power-hungry vice-president who decided to embrace “the dark side” almost as soon as the second tower fell, and who is still trying to avenge Nixon. Until they are both gone from office, we are in grave danger – the kind of danger that only torturers and fantasists and a security strategy based on coerced evidence can conjure up. And since they have utter contempt for the role of the Congress in declaring war, we and the world are helpless to stop them. Every day we get through with them in power, I say a silent prayer of thanks that the worst hasn’t happened. Yet. Because we sure know they’re looking in all the wrong places.

The torture issue is still with us, corrupting our society in the most pernicious and fundamental ways. It rots from within, destroying our institutions and the moral fiber of leaders who succumb to it. Those who dismiss or downplay this issue are dangerously deluded.

My good friends over at the Princeton Theological Seminar have invited me to give some remarks on the evening of November 15. I’ll be talking about the torture issue, how people of faith can address it (specifically how John Donne and William Wilberforce did), and how it is corrupting our national and popular culture. If you’re in Central New Jersey, think about stopping by. I’ll put up more details later.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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