Thursday, December 18, 2014

Torture is not an American value

Let me just start by saying that I believe former Vice President Dick Cheney is an evil old man. There is no point in attacking him. I’m eating lots of fruits and vegetables so I can be sure to outlive him. He is definitely getting coal in his stocking this year.

What is worth attacking is the ideology he and other neo-conservatives represent, one that continues directly from the PATRIOT Act to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and NSA surveillance programs today. What is worth attacking is the executive branch’s claim to limitless power and zero oversight by other branches of government or international bodies of law. What is worth attacking is the notion that any pretext is grounds for the most aberrant behavior codified into US law, refusing to call intentional infliction of pain resulting in permanent damage or even death what it is: “torture.”

What is worth attacking is the notion that for the USA to remain a safe and free country, the government must “work the dark side” (Cheney’s words on NBC - September 16, 2001) to employ tactics that no future school child should have to learn about as being committed in their name. What is worth attacking are gruesome CIA practices on detainees including involuntary “rectal feeding” (anal rape), mock executions, Russian roulette. threatening to slit the throat of a detainee’s mother, sexually abuse, and threatening prisoners’ children. One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on in part by being forced to sit on a bare concrete floor without pants. About 25 percent of the detainees were found to be wrongfully detained whatsoever. The CIA’s EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques) is just fancy bureaucracy speak for the word “torture.”

So this is a debate worth having. It is being had. And Dick Cheney’s recent press appearances represent the cornerstone of denial that the USA has done anything wrong, even confronted by cases in which detainees died as a result of torture. This is a moral stain on the United States and all Americans of any political persuasion should be willing to recognize this, regardless of who our perceived enemies are or what tactics they employ.

The United States is better than this. Whatever the charges against them, it should treat detainees humanely and prosecute those who engage in torture. But don’t take my word for it. Just ask George Washington, who wrote to the Northern Expeditionary Force on Sept. 14, 1775:
“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country... Treat [prisoners of war] with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.”

George Washington believed that British prisoners of the Revolutionary War should be treated no worse than American soldiers and better in some respects. In doing so, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause. We should never forget this. We live in extraordinary times, but so did Washington. Fear and vengeance should never be the basis for our moral compass.

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