Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The slippery slope of torturing prisoners

The Republican dominated Congress, which has been in a comatose state for the past six years, has finally woken up. Republican Senators Warner, McCain and Graham have taken a stand against White House bullying efforts to drag this country down a very steep slippery slope of abandoning common standards of decency in the treatment of prisoners taken during war time.

The Bush administration’s plans to rewrite these internationally recognized rules, so we are resorting to torture, are a sign of weakness of our intelligence services. It represents misguided priorities in an attempt to gain information we legitimately should have to protect our nation against those hostile to us. If this administration put as much effort into developing our intelligence capabilities as it does in this wrong-headed legislation to approve abusing prisoners, we would be much safer.

This also is a symptom of how low the standards of decency have sunk under the leadership of this administration. Political leaders who have taken a stand against torture are being congratulated for occupying the moral high ground. But lets be honest, being against torture is like being against rape. Why is this even an issue?

The most immediate issue in all of this is self-interest -- we need to look out for our soldiers not only in the current conflicts but in wars in the future whether they are conventional wars or not. Every soldier on the battlefield has intelligence useful to the other side. If American soldiers are captured on the battlefield do we not expect they will be treated decently or are we willing to let them be tortured because they have information that could save lives on the other side? If we follow the administration down this slippery slope then there is little or nothing to stop others from doing the same.

Robert Kuttner offers this perspective:
My father was a machine gunner with the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division,
which was among the first units to march down the Champs-Elysées after the
Allied liberation of Paris. In December 1944, having landed at Normandy and
fought across France and Belgium, he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge,
and sent hundreds of miles through northern Germany in an unheated boxcar in the dead of winter to a prison camp at Muhlberg in the east.

My father survived the war not because of the generosity of the Nazis to
Jewish soldiers. The Germans must have been tempted to send captured Jewish
American soldiers to Auschwitz along with Polish, German and Dutch Jews. But
they did not. My father survived because, amazingly, even the Nazis respected
the reciprocal agreements on humane treatment of prisoners.

The doctrine was simple: You don't abuse my soldiers when you take them
prisoner, and I won't abuse yours. In most cases, despite the multiple
atrocities of World War II, the doctrine held.

I thought of my father as I followed John McCain, John Warner and
Lindsey Graham, the Republican senators who are bravely resisting the Bush
administration's insane doctrine that the United States should become the first
signatory government to take exceptions to the Geneva agreements on humane
treatment of prisoners.

McCain was not as fortunate as my father. After his plane was shot down, he
was tortured by the North Vietnamese, who did not respect the Geneva
Conventions, and kept in a hellhole for six years. If anyone has the right to
dispute the doctrine of reciprocal, humane prisoner treatment, it is McCain. But
instead, McCain reasons, correctly, that if the United States, of all nations,
grants itself the right to abuse prisoners, not only are our soldiers at greater
risk, but our national soul.

Thanks to their leadership, the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected
the administration bill, and reported the McCain bill, requiring due process in
the prosecution of all captives, and respecting the protections of the Geneva
Conventions. The administration is still pressing to pass its bill. But for
once, it may not prevail.

Finally, on multiple fronts, after nearly six years of blind loyalty,
Republican moderates in Congress are beginning to rebel against the sheer
recklessness of their president - excuse me, of Vice President Dick Cheney and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who are the architects of these policies. A
higher loyalty is at last trumping partisan fealty to a dangerously radical

The founders of the United States wisely gave us separate branches of
government as checks and balances against tyranny. They may not have imagined
Dick Cheney, but they were familiar with his kind. The self respect of Congress
has been battered these nearly six long years, but it is coming back to life
just in time.

You may read the entire article here.

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