Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Torture Is, by Any Name, Both Illegal and Immoral

The topic of torture hasn't come up much, except perhaps in the context of Dick Cheney's memoir, in which he attempts a revision, albeit an inept one, of history. But since the American adoption of torture as a regular practice under Bush/Cheney is one of the most damaging developments in U.S policy -- and the Obama administration's decision to leave it undisturbed one of its most egregious failings -- it's important for us all to come to terms with it in order to mitigate its corruption in any way possible.

It's a tragedy that any American might even have to engage in a post-facto examination of why torture is wrong, but this is where we are.
  • For starters, torture is illegal under both national and international law, and its practice is prohibited by treaties and conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory.
  • Americans that participate in -- on any level from direct application to administrative support and encouragement, including, I might add, the failure to investigate and hold accountable -- the practice of torture are guilty of crimes and are morally corrupt.
  • Among the serious consequences for our nation, other than the disgrace and humiliation it brings upon our citizens, is the undeniable fact that, once we torture, we open up all Americans abroad to the possibility of being tortured as never before. Remember when we threatened Saddam Hussein with dire consequences if he so much as touched a hair on the  body of a downed pilot during the Persian Gulf War because mistreatment of prisoners was beyond the pale? What did he do? He avoided harming American prisoners because he knew it was a door he should never open, for his own sake. No more: now  torture is fair game for U.S. citizens because we have lost our moral authority.
  • Torture is unnecessary and counterproductive because professional interrogators have long known that reliable information can be obtained by legal means and that information obtained by illegal and immoral means is so very often unreliable, costing us a loss of moral authority with little if any gain and likely having a negative impact on our national security.
  • Renaming torture with euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" doesn't change a thing and in fact serves to only enhance its moral corruption. Waterboarding is torture; stress positions is torture; extreme heat and cold is torture.
Abu Ghraib
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder missed a golden opportunity to repair the breach in our moral standing in the world when they elected to "not look backward but to look forward." At the very least a South-African-style truth and reconciliation commission with no action taken against those who stepped forward and acknowledged their failing would have gone a long way toward setting things right. Unfortunately, we a stuck with our failure, and we as a nation shall long suffer for it.

For the record, here are links to the relevant torture statutes and treaties, as well as to a number of excellence writings and sites about the subject:
United States Code: Title 18,CHAPTER 113C—TORTURE

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- Article 5

UN Convention Against Torture

UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Third Geneva Convention -- Treatment of Prisoners of War

Fourth Geneva Convention -- Protection of Civilians in Time of War

Is torture against the law? -- Slate Magazine

Topic Torture --  (Look through the many articles, especially by Glenn Greenwald)

How America tiptoed into the torture chamber -- Andrew Sullivan

The Bradley Manning Torture Accountability Project

The Center for Torture Accountability

Guantanamo Bay

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