Torturing American Values

This past month, forty-six Republicans, forty-three Democrats, and one independent joined together to approve a measure banning the US government, military, or intelligence agencies from using torture to extract information from prisoners of war captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. This new measure was designed as a response to the infamous case of Abu Graib prison in Iraq, where US soldiers humiliated prisoners in an attempt to extract information. However, as the measure neared passage, the White House led an inexplicable campaign against the resolution. The effort, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, culminated with Cheney making a plea to stall the measure during a closed lunch with GOP Senators. Fortunately, the Senators, led by Vietnam torture survivor John McCain, decided to pass the bill. All these Senators recognized that the United States should maintain a “no-torture” policy for at least three reasons: torture is a violation of international and domestic law, torture cedes the moral high ground, and torture simply does not work. According to the Geneva convention, “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” Likewise, the sixth amendment states that no person shall be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Clearly, torture of any kind is prohibited by these provisions. The White House, and especially Counsel Alberto Gonzales, trying to avoid the implications of these laws, attempted, in several confidential memos, to define torture as something where “a defendant must specifically intend to cause prolonged mental harm for the defendant to have committed torture. It could be argued that a defendant needs to have specific intent only to commit the predicate acts that give rise to prolonged mental harm.” Essentially, Gonzales & Co. attempted to pigeonhole torture into the smallest possible definition so that we would be free to practice it. This creates multiple issues, including our expectation of how our soldiers should be treated if they are captured. We can’t rightly expect the privilege of torturing POWs if we expect our enemies to treat captives humanely. Not only is torture illegal, but it also cedes the United States’ moral high ground and lowers our standing in the world. Countries viewing the US as a beacon of freedom and liberty are rightly appalled by our cavalier use of torture. Additionally, by employing torture, we are offering our opponents a silver bullet in the war of ideas. How can we expect to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people when they see pictures of Lyddie England leading prisoners around a jail cell with a leash? As Senator John McCain told the Washington Post, “[by using torture] we lose… our greatest strength: that we are different and better than our enemies.” Finally, while Dick Cheney may argue differently, law enforcement professionals are nearly unanimous in their assessment of torture as an ineffective tactic. Said Dan Coleman, a former FBI agent, “[Have you] ever tried to talk to someone who’s been deprived of his clothes? He’s going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There’s no value in it.” Likewise, a CIA interrogation manual from the Vietnam era says, “Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress” The United States simply should not torture our prisoners of war, not on US soil, not on Cuban soil and certainly not on Iraqi soil. With the passage of this measure banning torture, the Senate has demonstrated that they understand the law and the importance of maintaining the US image throughout the world. And Dick Cheney looks more than a little ridiculous lecturing John McCain about the merits of torture.