Haleakala Times banner

No amnesty for torture architects

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the (Bush) administration has committed war crimes. The Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." – Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in 2004

April 27, 2009
By Rob Lafferty

We know that dozens of people employed by our government are guilty of torturing prisoners. We’ve heard both Dick Cheney and George Bush admit that they authorized methods of abusing prisoners that violate the Geneva Conventions. But instead of reacting in universal outrage, and despite the fact that torture of human beings is a crime in this country, we’re holding a public debate over the definition of torture and when it should be applied.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been very clear about his intent to continue declassifying any Justice Department documents concerning acts of torture against prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama has been willing to lift the veil of secrecy over the authorization of torture by members of our government, but he also has said that any investigation risks becoming mired in partisan politics. He’s even gone so far as to offer amnesty for anyone who followed the policy of abusing detainees and prisoners.

The architects of that policy, some of whom are under indictment by a Spanish court, are now speaking openly about justifying such things as waterboarding the same prisoner 183 times over a period of several months. They denied it all at first, of course, but now claim to be upset that an already well-known truth is being proven to the world through specific documents with their signatures at the bottom.

Remarkable as it may seem to civilized people in a 21st Century, a whole lot of Americans still believe that torture is acceptable under certain circumstances. The heart of their argument is an imperative need to extract information that will keep us all safe from the evil intentions of evildoers.

Defenders of torture claim that it works while opponents insist that confessions obtained under torture aren’t reliable. In a sense they’re both right: sometimes a victim of torture will tell the truth, but only a fool would believe a forced confession. Inside any prison cell there’s no way to tell truth from lies without some other verification, especially any stories someone might tell to avoid pain or trauma.

But all of that is beside the point, which is this: torture is wrong on every level, for any reason, period. It always has been wrong. It always will be wrong.

Even when done for good reasons, it’s still wrong to do it. Given the chance, you or I might be willing to torture someone in order to save innocent lives. We might save hundreds of lives as a result – but we’d still be wrong to do it. We might even be able to sleep at night after torturing someone, but we’d still be felons and sinners for doing it.

Former Senator David Boren was recently given two days of secret briefings on the torture program by the CIA. When it was over, he said listening to that kind of truth was "...one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had. I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it. Fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence."

If the American Nation isn’t smart enough or decent enough or courageous enough to insist that all human beings – including evildoers – should be treated from a position of respect, then we are no longer a decent model for shaping a society. It’s not about respecting terrorists; it’s about respecting ourselves enough to rise above those who feed off the carnage they inflict. It’s about refusing to sink to the level of cowards whom we despise.

Here’s one cold, hard truth about life in the New World Order: random violence and terrorist attacks cannot be prevented in a truly free nation. We accept that truth on some levels but we reject it on other levels because we live by a hypocrisy that has damaged our core values. As a result, we’ve become in many ways a remarkably selfish and scary people.

We allow people to own weapons designed purely to kill people because we have a Constitutional right to bear arms. We also accept the death of innocent bystanders when, during the month of March, eight different Americans went berserk and used their mostly legal arsenals to kill a total of 56 people, mostly at random. Such is the price of freedom, we say, as we shake our heads in grief and wonder at the senselessness of it all – but we accept it all the same.

We accept the sacrifice of hundreds or thousands of young American soldiers who fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan. We send them into battle for reasons that aren’t very clear against enemies they don’t understand and have trouble identifying. They fight and die, we tell them, to protect our freedom but when our government wouldn’t allow us to witness our dead returning home, we allowed that freedom to be taken from us.

Although we accept a lot of violent death as a sacrifice on behalf of freedom, most Americans would stop and stand shocked if they heard someone suggest that acts of political terrorism might be part of the price of freedom, too. We don’t accept that premise at all; instead, we invade some other country – or two – and send our secret police out to capture or kill anyone they suspect of acting suspicious. And thus we remain safe here at home, except for our own home-grown psychopaths, of course, whose numbers seem to be rising rapidly.

The kind of secrecy the torture program required should not be possible in a free country. If we have any hope of becoming a truly free society, we can’t allow oppressive and inhuman behavior by our own government. If individuals in our government promote and conduct such things, they must be held accountable under the Law of the Land or the Law has no meaning.

The key word in the paragraph above is “our” – the government is not Them; it is Us. It’s not the problem with our society, nor is it the solution. For we are the government; we own it, we own every square foot of the offices our elected employees work in, and we pay their salaries. If they behave badly, we’re responsible, too, because we hired them. If we allow them to keep their jobs, we become guilty of acting irresponsibly. Either way, we pay the price for the misdeeds of our government employees – for They are Us.

Some of us have been guilty of some very bad things. We must bring Justice to those who ordered human beings to be tortured in our name – because it must never happen again.

Rob Lafferty is a former editor of the Haleakala Times. He can be reached via email at rob@moonvalleypress.com