COLUMN: Uproot the Torture Culture in America
” … It’s depressing that in seven short years since 9/11, torture and illegal detention have sunk such deep roots into the American system. Listening to the pro-torture blather, you wouldn’t realize that America has successfully prosecuted terrorists using traditional law enforcement and trials: Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Mohammad Rauf, John Walker Lindh, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef. … “
January 27, 2009
The first week of Barack Obama’s presidency was both heartening and horrifying for me.
Heartening for the executive orders he issued to begin dismantling the illegal prison camp and torture systems the Bush administration built up. Horrifying for how many people think doing this is a bad thing.
Obama’s orders call for closing Guantanamo Bay within a year and reviewing the prisoners’ cases; stopping prisoners’ military commission trials; guaranteeing Guantanamo Bay prisoners the right of habeas corpus; closing the CIA’s secret prisons; keeping the International Red Cross informed about who we’ve captured in the war on terror; guaranteeing prisoners’ rights under the Geneva Convention; and limiting interrogation to the techniques used in the Army Field Manual (in other words, no torture).
This could turn out to be smoke and mirrors but after Bush’s claims he could imprison even American citizens indefinitely without trial, it’s an encouraging start. Not, however, in the eyes of the pundits and politicos freaking out at the thought of America giving up on torture and obeying the law.
• The National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial board and other Republican mouthpieces are proclaiming that America is doomed if Obama refuses to approve torture.
• Some pundits advocate creating a new court system to try Gitmo prisoners because evidence against them gathered by torture would be inadmissible in a regular court.
• News reports have wildly exaggerated Pentagon estimates of how many detainees have “returned to the battlefield” after release.
• Sen. John Cornyn has asserted that prosecuting CIA agents who’ve used torture “could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse — the very kind of risk aversion … that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11.”
Refusal to torture didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, and the commission never said it did.
It’s depressing that in seven short years since 9/11, torture and illegal detention have sunk such deep roots into the American system. Listening to the pro-torture blather, you wouldn’t realize that America has successfully prosecuted terrorists using traditional law enforcement and trials: Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Mohammad Rauf, John Walker Lindh, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.
Republicans keep saying that the lack of attacks since 2001 proves Bush’s policies “kept us safe.” By the same logic, the lack of attacks under Clinton proves fighting terrorism without torture or “enemy combatant” detentions also kept us safe, so why not go back to that?
It’s not just a matter of efficiency and safety: Torture and imprisonment without trial are wrong. Not only because they violate the law, but because they violate every principle of human decency.
They were wrong in Stalinist Russia, wrong in China, wrong in Saddam’s Iraq, wrong in Myanmar and just as wrong when we do it.
Maybe Bush genuinely thought torture was necessary to protect us, but Iran could have said the same thing if it found some of our soldiers inside its borders (“We know Bush wants regime change — what is the invasion plan? Talk!”).
If we play by the rules, some terrorists might walk out of Gitmo free along with the innocents. But the Bush years have shown there’s no way to prevent that without locking up, torturing and sometimes killing innocents as well, and that’s unacceptable. Even the guilty ones in Gitmo, if there are any, deserve a fair trial rather than being locked up forever at the president’s whim.
That’s part of what America is supposed to stand for: Equal rights for all, respect for the rule of law, and the courage not to throw away our ideals when they become inconvenient or risky. That may be too scary for Cornyn and the Wall Street Journal, but I have faith most Americans are made of stronger stuff.