Torture Must Neither Be Sanctioned Nor Excused
A recent United States Senate report on torture performed on foreign nationals primarily by the CIA abroad subsequent to the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11/01 caused quite a stir when it was partially released to the public. In the past, the US has signed international treaties forbidding torture and prided itself on its exemplary conduct of military campaigns. That our government after the horrible events on 9/11 chose to alter its course as a result and resorted to treating prisoners in ways which are recognized internationally as torture belies that reputation. Calls for criminal investigation, trials and punishment of those responsible have been made both here and abroad, as well as through the United Nations.
Calling torture by another name, such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” neither masks the brutal and inhumane ways in which our government sought to extract information from prisoners nor the fact that such behavior in our name is not morally acceptable in terms of national civilian, military or international law. These activities took place under the George W. Bush Administration and were supposedly ended before he left office, but the current administration has gone to great lengths to both hinder the release of any report and severely limit the specifics released in it (by means of copious redactions on national security classification of the information contained in it).
Our vaunted press freedom did more to obscure the facts than clarify them. Despite the fact that many reputable sources refute the claim that valuable information was obtained by use of some of these sadistic methods which could not be obtained in a timely manner otherwise, those in the Bush Administration and CIA responsible for creating and carrying out the policy continue to stick to their story. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has even gone so far as to say not only does he not regret advocating the policy, but he would do it all over again. Senator John McCain, who was unfortunate enough to have suffered torture during his time as a POW in Vietnam disagrees.
Arguments against the release of the information included in the report, as well as more information that has remained secret (at least from the general American public) include such notions as that release of names, dates, places, etc. may endanger the lives of personnel still working for the CIA, foreign assets or may possibly stir up violent responses in foreign countries against innocent Americans. In other words, releasing the ways in which our government chose to fight its war on terror might actually create even more terror. Who could have possibly predicted that and used it as an argument against using the techniques to begin with? Perhaps someone with enough imagination to be able to put the shoe on other foot and think of what would happen if everyone acted that way.
Use of these techniques has also made such stated Obama policy goals as closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even more difficult than it otherwise might have been. Evidence obtained under this sort of duress would certainly be thrown out of most trials in US civilian courts, and rightfully so, unless we intend our legal system to more closely resemble that of the old Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes we have compared it favorably to over the years. Small wonder that military tribunals have had a higher conviction rate than civilian ones when dealing with terrorist allegations. Indefinite detention is also unacceptable. Keeping someone locked up because you screwed up making a legal case against them should be no more tolerable when dealing with foreign citizens than with Americans.
Protecting the people responsible for this policy from prosecution is also problematic. It smacks of a cover-up of wrongdoing that in some ways makes Watergate seem insignificant in comparison. Many of the participants in that earlier cover-up ended up spending time in jail. Cheney is still revered to the extent that we probably see his face on Sunday talk shows more now than we did when he was in office. Many of those at the CIA who participated are still working there. Saying we must leave this episode in the past, having learned from it and resolved never to behave like that again, lends itself to the very real charge of unequal justice in our society.
How many people in this country are convicted of crimes much less severe than those committed in the name of national security and have their lives ruined as a result – spending years in prison, losing rights, liberties and a chance at making a decent living forever after, while these people have theirs barely interrupted as a result? Seems to me sort of like how the CEOs and other executives at major corporations can act in ways that bankrupt or foreclose on the homes of millions of people, yet face only settlement claims or fines paid by their shareholders and getting raises or hefty severance packages instead of richly deserved jail time themselves?
The brutality of the treatment meted out to these prisoners at black sites, prisons in war zones or scattered across the globe in cooperative nations, is a black eye to the American reputation that spews out contradictory nonsense about justice, democracy and freedom throughout the world. The vast majority of Americans are unable to imagine the violence and atrocities carried out in our names in the guise of Wars on Drugs, Terror and various other evils we find present elsewhere. The recipients of most of our violence share no illusions of our benevolence when faced with our bombs, drone strikes and prisons that are kept secret primarily from the American people who unknowingly fund it all.
The airplane attacks on 9/11 were indeed horrid and indefensible in my mind from any moral standpoint. The same is true of the extrajudicial executions of both legitimate terrorist threats and innocents killed abroad by our military, paid contractors and intelligence services. If we as a people believe that our way of life is at risk if we forego any of these activities, we should at least be kept aware of the implications of what we are doing to others. Keeping hundreds of billions of dollars in budgets which are spent on activities and items that are classified so as to keep them secret from the people who are paying for them is obscene. Allowing people to act in ways in the name of “national security” that would find them locked up for life if performed under full scrutiny is unconscionable.
In past wars, and even in most recent wars fought between or within smaller nations, those responsible for atrocities such as those that have only begun to seen the light of day in America’s most recent conflicts have been tried and punished by international tribunals set up for that purpose. I see no reason why Americans operating under similar circumstances should be excepted from this practice. What deterrent effect do laws or treaties have if they can be violated with impunity? How can we expect to ever live in peace if our motto is “Do unto others before they can do unto you”, rather than “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?
Isis and other terrorist organizations thrive on their brutality and their willingness to perform it. Our society often seems to thrive only by disguising its brutality to others and hypocritically calling it something that sounds less virulent that it really is. The time has come for not only ending for all time our willingness to treat others cruelly, but to also punish those meting out unjust and inhumane punishment. Nobody deserves to be tortured and nobody deserves to escape the legal consequences of torturing - or ordering others to do so.
The time is now for our government to reverse its tendency to treat its people as subjects, not fully participating members of our own governance. Rather than feeding us shit and leaving us to grow in the dark like mushrooms, we need to see the light of day when it comes to how and why our tax dollars are being spent. Transparency must come to replace secrecy in government. If the rest of the world is going to be pissed off at me, I deserve to know why. If my government is acting in ways that I do not condone, I deserve the opportunity to know what they are doing and they have the responsibility to keep us fully informed of why they are acting as they are. As things stand now, way too much of what we need to know about what our government is doing in our names and at our expense is being hidden from us inappropriately and unnecessarily. Our President campaigned on promises of increased government transparency. It is time for those promises to be kept.
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