2009-05-21 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

The Problem Of Torture Can Be Torturous
By Charles Rogers

I'll be frank about it. I don't know where I stand on the controversy of torture. I remember when I was a teenager someone showed me an old photo of some of our own soldiers standing around in a bunker in (I guess) Korea during that conflict or maybe it was the South Pacific during World War Two and they had two enemy soldiers in front of them and they were torturing them; wielding knives and guns and illegally — and immorally — inflicting what must have been such pain on these human beings that I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

No. This couldn't have been true. Not our troops doing this to others. We were always the "good guys." Such things were done by the Nazis and the North Koreans and the Commie Chinese. The bad guys. Never by us. Well, not "never," I thought. I suppose we had to do a few underhanded things we wouldn't be too proud of if we wanted to win wars; if we wanted to win even some battles. Twisting an arm here or there, for starters, might not be considered "torture," we'd suppose, as long as you didn't twist it too far, of course; as long as you didn't break it. And, hey, if it brought out an answer from a spy about troop movements or something like that, well, then we'd guess twisting arms, and even breaking them, might have served a purpose.

And what about those who might have seen this torture and complained about it? In the military, to complain about such things has always been frowned upon, I suppose. If you have captured a high-ranking individual whom you might be able to glean particular information from that might, in the long run, save some lives, the rationale has been to "go to it" and Godspeed.

But then there is the moral part. The part that says "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You know, The Golden Rule. The measure that marks men as civilized beings who have the gumption and the morals to do what is right.

It's the rule that, until recently in some cases, has always been a high mark of the American standard of life, love and war. We become inured to what we've heard has happened in the past "over there where the battlefields are" because we are used to it. The American way has, for the most part, been the moral way.

And then along came September 11th, 2001. And we found ourselves being attacked in the most vicious, surreptitious, unreasonable, unfathomable way! This couldn't be happening to us! These evil, evil people are attacking us BECAUSE of our way of life; BE-CAUSE of our civilized, moral thoughts; BECAUSE we are Americans — and for no other reason.

"We must do to them what they've done to us," many of us said. "We must not let them get away with the destruction of our country and the desecration of our souls."

There is much to be said about the action and reaction of President George W. Bush's administration during this period in our lives. He and Vice President Cheney took the low road, it seems, in their moral handling of the subsequent fighting; all the way through their tenure in office. (Ah, but then maybe some will call it the high road). What we do know, is that the Central Intelligence Agency took the torture road, which, apparently in some instances, worked to our advantage by having the enemy troops give us names and dates and troop movements and what-not that we needed in order to save the lives of Americans; in order to thwart further acts of terrorism.

In the year 2003, less than two years after the tragic Twin Towers attack, the CIA informed our members of congress that certain techniques were being used — and would later be used — in interrogating captured enemy soldiers. Congressional leaders are now talking about that in light of some information released recently that cites acts of torture during questioning sessions. Until now,

Continued on page 29 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she didn't know about some of the "techniques," such as waterboarding (almost drowning) individuals, although some are saying she did know, at the time, and, along with other Congresspersons, accepted it as necessary and therefore productive.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Cheney is running around making public appearances and saying that the techniques used by the CIA and our military were precisely what has kept us from being attacked again as we were on 9/11/01.

Some of his tactics are making a dent, too, since President Obama has already said he doesn't want certain photos of torture activities (such as those pictures we saw from Abu Ghraib Prison) being released to the public right now, which puts the president in disagreement not only with the American Civil Liberties Union but with his Democratic friends on the left.

Yes, it's a dilemma, all right. And a controversy. And, dammit, I'm still not sure where I stand. But yes, I feel safer because of some of the things we know have been done by our own people.

I feel safer, all right. But I also feel a little bit dirtier.

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