The One Where I Ramble About Battlestar Galactica And Torture

I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right! – Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables

Which side are we on?  We are on the side of demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. – Michael Hogan as Col. Saul Tigh in Battlestar Galactica

These are two of my favorite movie/television quotes.  They say a lot about the movie and show they are in and they say a lot about those characters.  Both men were simply using what they had to fight their fight the best way they could.  However, they were different.

Elliot Ness was righteous.  He may have done bad, but he knew he was on the side of the angels.  He was cleaning up Chicago and if he had to bend or break a few laws to put Capone in jail, he would.  He could sleep at night because he was at heart a good man defending the flag and apple pie against the evil mobsters and bootleggers.

Saul Tigh was not righteous.  He was doing a job no angel could do.  They were fighting on the losing side of a war and killed and maimed as many as possible to gain just a little traction.  He ordered people to kill innocents as well as themselves in suicide bombings to disrupt the Cylon Occupation.

I’ve had these two quotes in my head ever since seeing Zero Dark Thirty.  More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the torture of detainees and prisoners.  I have come to the conclusion that at least in this instance, we are the evil men in the gardens of paradise.  However, in this case those evil men were maybe not necessary, but understandable.  Those that were behind these evils should step up and say, “What we did was necessary, but not right.”  They should stop hiding behind the idea that because what they did, they did to protect this country it makes it all right or in some ways noble.  Just because you were trying to protect the country doesn’t make what you did legal or even noble.

I am not stupid.  Nor am I naive.  I understand that there are legal and diplomatic consequences to current and former government officials admitting to participation in torture.  Part of being an adult is admitting when you are wrong and accepting the consequences of your actions.

I don’t care about the souls of the men and women behind the torture program.  What I care about, is the country and the ideals they supposedly wanted to protect so much.  They did this in our name, which means we have done this thing.  We are all complicit.  We are the forces of death who sent in the evil men.  To pretend otherwise is to twist the soul and the intellect into inextricable knots and leads to nothing.

This all goes back to those two quotes.  Both men know what they have done and what they are doing and are comfortable with the consequences.  Ness believes he will be vindicated by history for defeating the evil man.  Tigh believes he will go to Hell whether his side wins or loses.

This is about our soul as a country.  You must confess your sins and ask God for forgiveness in order to save your soul.  That is not a get out of jail free card, there are consequences and there must be penance paid (especially if you are Catholic).

Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart” isn’t about a murder.  It is about the psychic consequences of hiding that murder.  It is about the toll hiding your evil takes upon your soul until it drives you mad.  This continued legal, intellectual, and psychic game of kind of admitting but not quite admitting what we did mixed with the rationalizations of many of the primary actors in this story has infected too much of our discourse about who we are in the post 9/11 world.  Unless and until we admit what we have done, this thing will continue to eat away at us and stain us in the world’s eyes as well as our own.

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