2009-04-30 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Torture Is No Way For A Humane Society To Act
By Neil S. Friedman

Ever since President Obama ordered the Justice Department to release the "torture memos" two weeks ago, there's been an assortment of opinions from each end of the political spectrum — and more than a few in between.

The president was as justified to release the memos, as it was for him to sign an executive order soon after he was sworn in as the nation's 44th president that forbids the Central Intelligence Agency from using torture as detailed in those memorandums.

As expected, conservatives, Republicans and, especially, former Vice President Dick Cheney, objected to the release of the formerly top-secret memos that vividly describe methods of interrogation used on suspected terrorists following the September 11, 2001 attacks and said they should have remained classified state secrets. On the other hand, some liberals and human rights groups crave nothing less than a thorough investigation and conceivably drool over the prospect of prosecuting those connected to violations of international, as well as domestic, law.

Resorting to torture was deemed essential after 9/11 as pressure mounted to gather information to prevent a second attack. Consequently, President George W. Bush and his inner circle — Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Cheney — readily endorsed such acts, which were then given the go ahead by Justice Department officials, even after Bush vowed to treat terror suspects humanely.

While there was a sense of urgency to determine who was behind 9/11, the Bush Administration later denied torture was used, and then when it was revealed, it was attributed to a handful of disobedient, low-ranking soldiers. It later amended that claim and said such techniques were only being used on terrorists of "high value" to obtain information on possible imminent attacks, which later proved to be a lie. It was subsequently discovered that methods of torture used by military interrogators and CIA contractors were excessively brutal and comparable to procedures criticized when used by our enemies. Such acts have long been denounced by our own State Department, but were, nonetheless, authorized by the Justice Department.

What could be expected from an administration that duped a nation into supporting a war with no iota of a link to the Sept. 11 attacks?

Cheney now baldly admits torture was essential to gain vital information to foil other attacks, yet he refuses to be specific under the guise of "national security," a government official's best friend. Anyway, if it ever becomes clear that no major plots were revealed during torture and most information proved to be unreliable, it adds yet another black mark to the tarnished Bush legacy.

Torture has been used since the Middle Ages, but, as a rule, it is regarded as a depraved method to inflict punishment on enemy captives. The rough treatment inflicted on our enemies now appears to equal some of the worst human rights violations on record.

Waterboarding, a near-drowning method used by U.S. interrogators after 9/11, can be traced back to the Spanish Inquisition - 500 years ago. Obviously, some of military officers and civilian officials thought it was time to revive it, though there is little evidence it resulted in amassing any significant information. In fact, after World War II, the U.S. prosecuted some Japanese interrogators for the very same abuse they used against captured GIs.

Other sadistic methods outlined in the memos include: sleep deprivation up to 11 days; wall slamming, and stress positions.

What's next, beheadings? Oops, only savages would resort to that!

One conservative writer said that the memos should be a "source of pride" because a "nation of laws" defended itself against "a savage lawless enemy." Sounds as if it's okay in his mind for the U.S. to disregard its basic principles of civility when you confront an immoral opponent.

If that's the case, what does that make us?

In fact, doesn't using torture weaken the argument when the U.S. criticizes other countries' human rights violations?

No one expects captured terrorist suspects to be coddled, but there can never be justification for tolerating conduct that is just as savage as acts committed to warrant such treatment.

To put the Justice Department lawyers or anyone from the Bush Adminstration on trial could establish a risky standard that would tie the hands of future administrations that face similar circumstances. It makes more sense to modify current laws to ensure that our system of checks and balances is upheld so that congressional leaders, and even the Supreme Court, weigh in before the Executive Branch ever again takes such appalling steps.

Revealing the facts about the horrible methods approved by the Bush Administration would, in most instances, be disgraceful for the wrongdoers connected to such depravity, but in the arrogant minds of men like Cheney and Rumsfeld it is comparable to a badge of honor for which they bear no shame.

As a nation that places strict limits on our government to encourage individual freedoms, it is important to maintain respect for human rights and individual dignity, and not, as the president noted, "lose our moral bearings" by resorting to brutality or the very principles we vigilantly defend will have little value.

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