The Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of the CIA torture report Tuesday has caused a divide among Americans.
The debate, currently between all ends of the political spectrum, consists of those who vehemently oppose torture, those who support it, and those who base their decisions on political dogma.
According to many mainline conservatives, torture is a necessary tool in the global war on terror – a tool which has and will prevent another terror attack on American soil.
Setting aside preconceived notions, facts surrounding the morality and effectiveness of torture should easily move conservatives to reexamine their viewpoint.
To put things lightly, becoming evil to defeat evil doesn’t work.
The first conservative icon to decry torture was also the first American president – George Washington.
During the struggle for independence, Washington defied calls to treat captured British soldiers inhumanely despite some of his men being tortured to death while in the British Monarchy’s custody.
“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country,” Washington said in 1775.
Washington’s goal was to found a Republic that valued the rule of law and rejected tactics used by authoritarian empires. America’s first president understood the danger in violating another human’s rights in the name of protecting one’s own.
“While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case are they answerable,” Washington said the same year.
Moving forward to the modern era, a man considered by conservatives to be one of the country’s strongest ever leaders was also steadfast in his opposition to torture. So much so that he even gave his full support to the United Nations Convention against Torture.
Similar to Washington’s viewpoint, Ronald Reagan opposed all forms of torture in all circumstances no matter how dire.
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture,” the convention states. “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture”
Reagan aide Paul Bremer expanded on the President’s belief in 1987, arguing that even the most heinous of international terrorists deserved to be tried in accordance with the rule of law.
“A major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are – criminals – and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them,” Bremer said.
Torture opponents have long recognized the slippery slope that is “enhanced interrogation.” Although the media has mainly focused on waterboarding, which itself has produced convulsions and vomiting as suspects and non-suspects are subjected to “near drownings,” the most vile of torture techniques are the direct result of the departure from original conservative values.
In 2003, pictures taken at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq were released for the world to see. Unabated torture of Iraqi prisoners by military police eventually led to the darkest of techniques – the rape of woman and children.
“At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee,” the article states. “Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.”
“Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: ‘I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.’”
Not only is there no excuse for such deplorable and anti-human behavior, such acts, which were already known among many Iraqis, have put U.S. troops at extreme risk.
“I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo,” military veteran Matthew Alexander wrote in the Washington Post. “It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse.”
“The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me – unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Not only does torture put our soldiers at risk, but it also produces false intelligence, as anyone under such conditions will say anything to end the abuse.
“I don’t know how you could say we’re safer and more secure. If you torture somebody, they’ll tell you anything,” Major General Thomas Romig said in 2007. “I don’t know anybody that is good at interrogation, has done it a lot, that will say that that’s an effective means of getting information… It has not made it safer for our soldiers when they’re captured.”
One of the main points from the Senate’s report was the fact that torture did not provide legitimate intelligence, exposing movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty” to be nothing more than propaganda pieces.
With the U.S. government currently arming, training and supporting admitted jihadists all across Syria, can it really be claimed that torture is being used to keep us safe?
Given the fact that Americans can now be kidnapped and placed in military prisons without trial or charge under the National Defense Authorization Act’s indefinite detention provisions, can you be certain that this power wont expand to darker realms in the future?