Beacon of Light

We’re one year away from the general election and I planned to be writing about the road ahead and lessons learned so far. However, Senator Hatch’s advocacy of the CIA “exemption” on Senator McCain’s torture ban on “Face the Nation” yesterday is beyond the pale and it deserves comment.

When the attrocities of Abu Ghraib came to light, I had a conversation with my father about the Germans who were held in P.O.W. camps in America in World War II. He told me that once the war was over and the prisoners had the opportunity to return home, many of them didn’t want to. The treatment, dignity, and respect they had received was better than anything waiting for them in Germany. What a stark contrast to the news of today.

Aside from the questionable results torture is known to generate, along with the danger it presents to our own troops when captured by the enemy a deeper question remains. Is this what America is about? Does what America stands for end at our shores? I believe not. We represent our country and our ideals wherever we are.

Americans should shun torture in any form. In these cases, the end never justifies the means. It is not about what is permitted by the Geneva convention, or what can be done behind closed doors, it is about humanity and what America represents.

America should always be the beacon for human rights and dignity throughout the world. The use of torture extinguishes that light.

20 thoughts on “Beacon of Light

  1. It’s easy to remember McCain blinking the words ‘torture’ in Morse Code. I don’t think the North Vietnamese ever earned our respect.

    Torture will only bring the perpetrators (U.S) hate & disrepect — which will promulgate throughout the victim’s family for multiple generations.

    After the WMD’s failed to materialize, the Bush administration resorted to publicizing the abuses & tortures of the Saddam administration. Who are we to remove Saddam on that premise while commiting the same acts of torture?

    Whether we agree or not, both sides fight for what they believe. We are mostly Christians fighting for the U.S. Many insurgents are Islams fighting their Holy War. If we want repect, we need to travel a higher road.

    I served a mission in Guatemala at a time where many good people were captured and tortured. I heard & saw many things I’d rather forget. Torture doesn’t bring respect; the forced confessions are not worth the cost.

    Listen to someone who has been a torture victim — Senator McCain. If he wants a ban, there’s probably sound understanding behind his views.

  2. I’m glad to see you speaking out. This war is a terrible thing by itself, without the added outrage of torture.
    Do you happen to remember Dave Johnson (Big Dave), who started the HOG bbs, and also Don’t Panic Computers? He spoke well of you. (As does my grandson, Jeff Reese, who works for you at XMission.)

  3. Ken says “forced confessions are not
    worth the cost.” Indeed, confessions
    obtained under torture are NOT ADMISSABLE as evidence in US Courts of Law. So they are in fact not worth
    anything at all.

  4. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Within this declaration of independence, is an implicit statement that all people are guaranteed inalienable rights. The term “all men” refers not only to the rights of US citizens, but implicitly includes “all men.” How can the denial of basic rights, of torture, and of cruel and unusual treatment possibley be construed as a reasonable or legitimate act. We would never allow this to a citizen of our country under the law. If we believe in our own declaration, how could we possibly allow this to any citizen of the world?

  5. Dear Pete:

    Thank you for taking a stand. When I first heard about the torture of our prisioners, I was shocked. Not too much shocks me about this administration any more. From a letter to the editor in the Herald Journal:

    “Political carrion feeders are plucking at the bodies of America’s military sons and daughters. The most heinous fo these are the leaders of our own government. President
    Bush and his extended family tree are heavily connected to investment, insurance, and military companies like Vangard and The Carlyle Group, who hve lucrative Iraqi contracts. Vice President Cheney’s Haliburton stock options have risen 3,281 percent in the last year. Defensse Secretary Donald Rumsfied has stock interest in Gilead Sciences, the company that owns the rights to the next goldmine vaccine, Tamiflu. No wonder these vultures are resisting American withdrawal from Iraq.”

    It’s time the American public knew thse facts. People should rise up and voice their opions about things like prisioner abuse. It certainly is not the way of most of this country’s citizens or our sons and daughters in the military. We are all victim’s of a regime as cruel as the one we are fighting.

    Lanta Rasmussen
    Logan, Ut

  6. Pete, I’ve just read the transcript you linked from Face the Nation. While I don’t agree with Hatch on this point, I don’t think you’ve fairly characterized his position. Here are a couple of sentences of what Hatch said.

    Well, the White House and the vice president in particular is against torture. He makes that very clear in every discussion he has. But if you look at the rules of the Geneva Conventions, you’ll find that there is a kind of a wide latitude of what can be used. Naturally, the more extreme methods I don’t think we want to use, but they still are within–some of these methods, within the Geneva Convention rules. And all I’m saying is that he is, is that he is definitely against torture. The administration is definitely against torture. But they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure that our citizens in the United States of America are protected.

    It sounds like Hatch is saying that there are some methods that are not already illegal under the standards agreed upon by all the nations. Hatch doesn’t want to hold our people to a higher standard than other countries. That may not be the “beacon of light,” but it is at least a reasonable position to take.

  7. Ken wrote in the comments above, “After the WMD’s failed to materialize, the Bush administration resorted to publicizing the abuses & tortures of the Saddam administration. Who are we to remove Saddam on that premise while commiting the same acts of torture?”

    I understand the sentiment in Ken’s statement, but I wonder if Ken is aware of the types of things that went on with official sanction in Hussein’s Iraq. It is possible he is not. You see, the acts that were being committed were the sort of thing that caused me to feel depair for the state of humanity. Reading about the things that were done will make a giant knot form in your stomach and would cause any decent person to cry. They are so bad that I can’t write them here. They are so bad that most reporters couldn’t repeat them in most venues. It would simply be inappropriate.

    In very sharp contrast, the things that were done in Abu Graib were not done with official sanction. There were bad; they caused me to shake my head in disgust that a very few of our soldiers would behave so poorly. Reading about those events or seeing those pictures didn’t cause anything like the revulsion I feel when I think about the things that were done widely under Saddam.

    There is no moral equivalence between the torture and depravity that Saddam demanded and the hazing-like incidents at Abu Graib. We can denounce the latter without comparing it to the former.

  8. While I do believe that we should be an example to all nations and our treatment of prisoners should be the best in the world… torture should not be completely taken off the table, but only used in very extreme cases.
    Let me give a “what if.”
    What if we were able to capture a high level terrorist leader, and along with that captured leader we were able to find out that a “dirty” nuke was to be set off in a week, in some US city, but we did not find out where it would be set off or who had it. Would it not be in our best interest to do whatever we could to find out the needed information?
    Think about it… 3 million Americans vaporized, another couple of million suffering from cancer, birth defects, and burns for years to come, and a city uninhabitable for 1000 years all because we held the high ground and didn’t twist an arm?
    I’m not saying that we should send a couple of marines into the room with a prisoner to start shooting off toes. But I think that we should have a few highly trained people that can extract information.
    I hate to say it, but torture should never be completely taken off of the table.

  9. I am sickened at the thought of an American Gulag. I am tired of the parsing of the Geneva Convention (“They’re not really soldiers; they are not signatories.”) I have never felt more ashamed of my country. Even if we manage to evict these amoral thugs in Washington, DC, we will be paying for their actions for decades to come.

  10. It appears to me that the white house has apporoved the use of torture. See the following.
    As White House Counsel

    GONZALES APPROVED MEMO AUTHORIZING TORTURE: An August 2002 Justice Department memo “was vetted by a larger number of officials, including…the White House counsel’s office and Vice President Cheney’s office.” According to Newsweek, the memo “was drafted after White House meetings convened by George W. Bush’s chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and [Cheney counsel] David Addington.” The memo included the opinion that laws prohibiting torture do “not apply to the President’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.” Further, the memo puts forth the opinion that the pain caused by an interrogation must include “injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions—in order to constitute torture.” The methods outlined in the memo “provoked concerns within the CIA about possible violation of the federal torture law [and] also raised concerns at the FBI, where some agents knew of the techniques being used” overseas on high-level al Qaeda officials. [Gonzales 8/1/02 memo; WP, 6/27/04; Newsweek, 6/21/04; NYT, 6/27/04]

  11. The “ticking bomb” scenario described by Mike above (and many others in defense of torture) is so improbable it hurts my brain. Mike is suggesting that there may someday be a situation where we know – without a doubt – that we have a terrorist, who knows there is a bomb, and somehow we know he knows, and in addition, there is some foolproof way to disarm it, and we also know (somehow) that he can tell us what that is, and – finally – we know (who knows how?) that he will give this information truthfully under torture.

    This simply will never happen anywhere but on TV.

    But let’s entertain his line of reasoning for a moment by providing a similar example. Isn’t it true that there might someday be a situation where a bad, bad man will threaten to set off a nuclear device if I do not molest your daughter? Sure it’s improbable! But I remember seeing something similar to this on TV once. Therefore, by Mike’s reasoning, we must not outlaw child molestation. Right?

  12. I find it stupendous whenever someone brings up Abu Ghraib when talking about torture. It’s equally astonishing when someone calls what happened there as “attrocities.” From what we know of what happened in the prison, some prisoners were subject to humiliating pranks which seem to have been for no other reason than to entertain some immature soldiers and government contractors.

    Does this make it okay? Of course not. Our soldiers and other U.S. citizens are obligated to treat all prisoners and detainees with proper respect. If this is not happening, measures must be taken to ensure those responsible are dealt with appropriately. This has been done.

    To associate the acts of Pfc. Lynddie England and her comrades with torture serves only to demonstrate a stark lack of understanding of what happened there or of what torture really is.

    I consider myself a conservative, libertarian republican. I hope to see Orrin Hatch defeated because of his allegiance to special interests, his willingness to collaborate with crackpots like Edward Kennedy, and his gross ignorance of copyright and digital technology issues. On this particular issue, however, I feel he’s on the right side and, Pete, you are on the wrong side.

    Personally, I don’t care what our prisoners and detainees think of how they’re treated while they’re in U.S. custody. Until Al Qaeda stops trying to blow up every American (or ally) man, woman and child, terrorist fighters are the enemy. We should provide them with basic human rights (which is more than Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, or Abu Musab Zarqawi would ever grant to any U.S. citizen or ally.)

    There many, many reasons to not employ torture in any aspect of war. I’ve been told U.S. army field manuals specifically indicate torture is never an effective means of extracting reliable intelligence from detainees. We, as Americans, pride ourselves in abiding by a much higher code of ethics when it comes to human life than those who would fly airplanes full of innocent civilians into buildings.

    That said, I don’t believe you, I, or most others who may read this have any kind of education, background, or field experience to determine if, when and where torture may be appropriate. I would rather it be available if needed and if it ever has to be used, the proceedings are carefully documented and reviewed. There has to be instances where the price of security (i.e. actionable intelligence) is worth the cost of torture.

    There is also a psychological aspect of this legislation. If the government passes blanket legislation barring all American soliders or personnel from ever engaging in any kind of torture of the enemy, it sends a message to our enemies that we’re soft. Allowing some torture under special, thoroughly monitored conditions sends quite a different message. watching us. They will get the message.

  13. Just to demonstrate Fozz’s mastery of the subject matter, I thought I’d provide a link to some pictures of the atrocities that were committed at Abu Ghraib which Fozz describes as nothing more than “humiliating pranks”.

    Please take special note of the pictures of soldiers giving the thumbs up next to the cadaver of a man who was beaten to death in the shower. Is murder just a “prank”?

  14. Dear Fozz, Everyone pretty much has agreed that most of prisoners are innocent and if they were not against us when they went into prison they sure were when they came out. I was just wondering if this is is how you would like to be treated by a liberating, invading army. If King George is such a great llberater, why is he not riding in an open air limosine through the streets with everyone throwing flowers in his path as Donald Rumsfeld painted the picture before the invasion. see the link for the comfort we give the Iraqi civilians. Can I puke now or later.

  15. I wonder if Republicans are experiencing a sense of deja vu as they argue about “who is/is not a prisoner of war”, “what is/isn’t torture”, and “whether there were/were not WMD’s”, after crucifying Clinton et al for his “inhaling/not inhaling” or “having/not having sex” vacillations. I’d like to ask whether Bush has made us safer and more morally righteous, independent of his creative arguments.

    Thanks for stating your position, Pete. I’m tired of Hatch’s self-righteousness and two-faced Judicial Committee work. I want a Senator with fresh blood who isn’t indebted to his National party and lobbyists.

  16. The thing about torture is that it causes grievous damage to the people inflicting the torture. These men and women who are told its okay to hurt others under their control because they’re not doing or saying what we want, will come back to the USA believing its okay to hurt others. The torturers may become a danger to the nation they went to Iraq to serve.

  17. For the most part, it’s our youth we send to battle. Same goes for the enemy. Perhaps torture would be best reserved for our leaders making the decisions, rather than for the young soldiers (on either side) that are called into battle.

    Realistically, most young men/women don’t have the experience & knowledge to truly understand the politics behind war/battle decisions. We can certainly claim the young suicide bombers are brainwashed (led to believe one side of the story ).

    Perhaps we’re reserving our torture for the wrong people. I also wonder if we’re torturing Saddam, or if we’re feeding him well & keeping him in good health. Is it possible that torture is best reserved for the ‘unknown’ persons unlikely to speak out ?

  18. It IS a fact that torture doesn’t help either side.

    While we’re the main benefactors of humanity and peace, we should not practice hypocrisy. It is true that we’re hypocrites.

    A recent research survey came out that 23% of everyone that is proven innocent of a crime after they have been indicted said that they gave a false confession. A false confession that was coerced. Coersion may not be as bad as torture, but it is along the same lines. If there are over 1/5 of the prison inmates that have given a confession, were false, then we’re doomed.

    Of course it is true that our criminal justice system has some cracks and chips, but we can correct these mistakes, if we only had compassion.

    Torture/coercion is never good. It is inhumane, in all circumstances, and should be shunned by Americans. It is true, Americans, in general, are hypocrites. Let’s correct this.

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