Torture and Consequence

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The United States does not torture.  Oh wait- didn’t George W. Bush also say the very same thing? He did. Unfortunately for the previous administration, we are learning with the release of declassified memos that such phrases were part of a semantics dance designed to mislead and cover for a systemic policy of torture that was coordinated and approved from the very top down.  And we have to deal with it completely, or this country will never be the same.

Some people are already rolling their eyes at me. They’re thinking  “enhanced interrogations are different than torture. Waterboarding isn’t anything like pulling out fingernails.”  No, it’s not- and a person getting shot in the back is different than a bomb killing several people- but are either of those right? Waterboarding is torture. We prosecuted Japanese soldiers in WWII for waterboarding our men. It has been outlawed for over a century by the U.S., and historically considered torture in unanimous fashion, with the exception of brutal, nationalistic regimes who happen to prefer it from time to time. International law has been, and is used to prosecute against the use of torture methods including waterboarding, and that matters because we are not only essentially co-authors of these international laws, but we have fought to defend these principles since back in WWII. Besides the immediate trauma associated with the event of waterboarding, many studies reveal that those who have been waterboarded have lasting physical or psychological effects. 

For those still thinking this is all a walk in the park, I invite you to research what happened to several (meaning dozens) of prisoners since the start of this “war on terror.” Many have died as a result of our  “enhanced interrogation.” That’s also known as the torture and murder of prisoners captured during war, by the United States of America.  Of course, there were other methods involved in this torture policy, which included slamming prisoner’s heads against walls, beatings, sleep deprivation, confinement boxes and stress positions. Did you also know that this “package” of techniques is very close to what the former U.S.S.R. used to practice? I’m leaving out all the sexually humiliating things that have been documented in recent years, which might not be “torture” but are easily cruel and inhumane.

Some say  “I could handle waterboarding.” Now we have journalists and talking heads  “trying” waterboarding to verify if it’s torture or not. How absurd. It’s a moral and a legal issue, not a “Fred says so” kind of thing. More importantly- the terror suspects did not know that they were in for a drill which every volunteer does (not to mention it ends the moment the volunteer says uncle). Waterboarding is a mock execution designed to coerce a confession. That instantly reverses the notion of    “innocent until proven guilty,” and that’s before you get to the much worse problem that it’s unAmerican, immoral and in violation of existing federal and international law.

Some will say  “I frankly don’t care what happens to those terrorists if American lives are at stake.” This one infuriates me like few other things do. It is absolutely inexcusable for an American citizen- in a country that was founded to preserve liberty and justice for all- to live by phrases like that. We are not a nation of blood-thirsty thugs. We are a nation of laws, safeguards, liberty and justice.  The threat of an attack does not justify abuse. In fact torture increases the threat of an attack as it has been demonstrated that our policy of torture is one of the key reasons that terrorist groups are successfully recruiting.

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Did any Christians happen to forget that Jesus was tortured too? Photo credit: Icon Films

At some point, there’s not much more to say, although there are volumes available for those who want to research this as I have. But this should not be a 2-sided issue. I don’t care about the cowardly pundits on the evening news saying things like  “sometimes you just have to walk away from the past.”  We will not be a civilized nation of liberty and lawfulness if we do not investigate and if fitting- prosecute those who implemented this policy, all the way down to those who participated in it. The “someone told me to” defense didn’t work at Nuremberg. Should it float now?

Here are some recent developments on this matter. If you are indifferent about this issue, I beg you to take a step closer by reading some of this material. A person cannot expect to be appropriately bothered by something if he or she only allows for the same kind of message from the same kind of people.

If online reading gets you bored in a hurry and you prefer something visual- please consider watching the documentary ‘Taxi to the Darkside,’ which features on-camera interviews with several military personnel from Bagram air base, who admit on-camera that they participated in the beating (which lead to the death) of prisoners based on orders (or agreement) from higher-ups.

To understand the legal and historical context of this smear on our republic, and the hypocrisy of doing nothing about it, read constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald. He is a national treasure and I mean that sincerely. Start here.

More links establishing the recent history of the Bush administration’s torture policy:

Torture planning began in 2001, as a means to link 9/11 and Saddam

Military agency warned Bush administration in 2002 that its interrogation program was ‘torture.’

Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Suskind: Torture Employed to Alleviate White House Frustration in the U.S. run up to war.

The response:

Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson: Disbar the Bush Lawyers and Get a Special Prosecutor for the Rest

Conservative former deputy attorney general Bruce Fein calls it like it is

Former High-ranking general Antonio Tagubu calls for accountability

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold calls out the cowardly response and challenges the Obama Administration about investigations

Matthew Yglesias on the rule of law and our duty to pursue investigations

A former FBI interrogator breaks his silence, and discusses the right (and effective) way to interrogate

To close, I’ll leave you with this quote from Mark McKeon, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: he writes that the United States “cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.”

And no, we should not be outraged just for the sake of being outraged. Do something. Call your representative and sign a petition or two. Preliminary polling suggests that well over 1/2 of Americans want investigations of the Bush administration regarding  “enhanced interrogations.” That percentage needs to increase. This would be one of those right vs. wrong (not left vs. right) issues.

3 thoughts on “Torture and Consequence

  1. torture…. we do not torture…, lol…. the cia is bases many of there interrogation techniques on torture… of course we can just about discount many of the half-truths told by the bush administration… hey according to the inquirer .. Bush is contemplating suicide… well at least he is making late night calls to conde with suicidal thoughts…

  2. hey ian- thanks for this thoughtful post. it helps me in my processing of this reality and it is empowering to hear you speak into the injustice of water boarding and other specific tools of torture. i feel very angry about the cover up of these methods and i feel ashamed that it is something that we’ve employed in our recent history AND i’m frustrated at the apathy of the American people so thank you…

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