Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Restoring my faith in America

Senate Panel Condemns Torture, Blames Rumsfeld

Last week, The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report that blames Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush Administration officials for torturing suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and the detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The 25-member Senate panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, unanimously approved the resolution.

The Committee Reported: "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

The Bush Administration had insisted the torture of prisoners in the war on terror was the fault of a "few bad apples," and that the U.S did not engage in torture. At the same time however, Bush defended harsh interrogation techniques and redefined what had generally been considered torture as not constituting torture.

The controversial interrogation practices condemned in the report including forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and the use of dogs. "These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," Senator John McCain said in a statement.

The United States has long been on record as opposing torture. Numerous laws, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and various treaties clearly prohibit it. The US was instrumental in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which bans all forms of torture. In 1990 Congress ratified the UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We have had a record of which we could be proud.

With the start of the war in Iraq, the United States began redefining and equivocating on US policies that prohibit torture. Waterbording which had long been considered torture was redefined as not being torture. In 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the use of 24 specific interrogation techniques for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In court filings, FBI agents reported that detainees at Guantanamo Bay were chained in a fetal position to the floor for up to 18 hours without breaks and had to lay in their own waste, were subjected to extremes of temperature, were gagged, held in stress positions while shackled, and subjected to loud music and flashing lights. Senior administration officials denied that these techniques were torture.

In 2004 the Abu Ghraib story broke and told of sadistic humiliation of prisoners and accounts of abuse, torture, sodomy and even the death of prisoners while being interrogated. Some military personnel were punished for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but it became clear that Abu Ghraib was not simply a case of an isolated incident of individuals violating established rules but a case of there being a climate that tolerated, condoned, or ignored torture.

In 2005 in response to the outcry over the Abu Ghraib scandal, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act which banned all cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and required that all military interrogations comply with the Army Field Manual. From 2006 to 2008, in military appropriation bills and other legislation, Congress further defined and outlawed torture.
In 2006 the military issued updated field manuals and reiterated that "no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law." Specific techniques which were listed as prohibited including waterbording and many of the techniques used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Torture should not be practiced by the United States. Torture is counterproductive. It elicits false confessions and it turns the people we are trying to help against us. Abu Ghriab was a recruiting opportunity for Al Qaeda in Iraq. By the U.S. actions at Abu Ghriab we created our own enemies. After seeing the pictures from Abu Ghriab, I can understand how a neutral Iraqi would join the forces fighting the United States.

Torture is not only wrong because it is a counterproductive means of interrogation and wrong because it turns people against us. It is simply wrong. It violates standards of human decency.

I am not na├»ve. We live in a mean, harsh world. I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. I accept that innocent people die in battle. I accept that under the pressure of war people do things they would not normally do. I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe that if we are only nice enough our enemies will learn to love us. However, we must treat people with basic human dignity. To commit acts of cruelty and torture robs us of our own humanity. It makes us no better than our enemies.

I do not want America to be the kind of nation that tortures people. That is not who we are. That is not the United States that I know and love. I want to be proud of the United States of America and proud of our men and women in uniform. In the past, Americans could say with a clear conscious that American does not condone torture. We could say it is not American policy to treat people inhumanly. However, for a while, we could not say that.

President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld brought shame upon our county. I am glad that the US Congress and the military have put the U.S. back on record as unequivocally not engaging in torture and cruelty. My faith in my country is being restored.

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  1. Part of the "torture" consisted of playing Barney tunes over and over again, really loud.

    Yeah, I guess that is torture!

  2. Great sentiments, true patriotism, it should never be "My country, right or wrong"