Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Tragedy of Torture

Andrew Sullivan possesses a frustrating ability typical of exceptional writers -- to be able to express a sentiment that you had been struggling to find words for, far more articulately than you ever could. When such is the case, it is best just to excerpt liberally. And so excerpt I shall:

The last time I checked, the official number of murders by torture in U.S. custody was five, with 23 other deaths under investigation. Now we have 26 criminal homicides of detainees. There will be more to come. The standard conservative defense is that this was restricted to one night in Abu Ghraib and that even that wasn't torture. Anyone who has read even the white-wash reports, like the Church report, knows that what happened at AG was torture under any definition. Anyone who reads the NYT this morning will note that only one of the murders took place at Abu Ghraib. This was systemic mistreatment of detainees. It still is. And this doesn't even deal with the CIA, which has been given carte blanche to torture or kidnap anyone it suspects of terrorism, even if innocent, or to send them to Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia to get hung from hooks in the ceiling. The second conservative response is that this has nothing to do with official policy and that therefore no one in the administration should be held accountable. First, Donald Rumsfeld didn't think so. He offered to resign twice because of his responsibility (he had signed two torture warrants by then and known of Abu Ghraib for months). Second, the administration's reversal of its own 2002 memo sanctioning torture implicitly acknowledges that it had responsibility for this astonishingly widespread phenomenon of torturing prisoners to death or treating them so badly they died. The numbers of detainees tortured or mistreated who didn't die is, of course exponentially larger. The administration included as part of its war-plan legal memos arguing that the usual ban on mistreatment of prisoners was no longer operable and that any "military necessity" could justify torture or abuse of detainees. How much more evidence do we need? Now we have the latest ACLU document dump in which one soldier reports that General Ricardo Sanchez said, ""Why are we detaining these people, we should be killing them." Well, why should anyone be surprised when these prisoners were indeed killed?
It’s baffling that the same administration which has dedicated itself to ending tyranny and spreading democracy throughout the Middle East could be so willing to adopt interrogation procedures that are inimical to the liberal democracy it is trying to promote. Actually it’s not baffling, it’s sickening. And it threatens to undo the progress made in the region so far. (One of my major problems with John Kerry was his craven refusal to call the President out on the interrogation practices that his administration had condoned). The image of the hooded Iraqi man standing on a small box with wires attached to his genitals could be just as influential as the image of the joyous Iraqi man voting with a child in his arms.

It is important to note here that, although torture has been widespread, it is still practiced by only a small percentage of our military and intelligence personnel. Indeed, the large number of Army and CIA officials who have condemned and reported such behavior is quite heartening. But it is also important to note that torture continues still.

There must be an investigation into detainee abuse that is unconnected to either the Pentagon or the CIA. It is the first step to undoing the damage that we have wrought. Hopefully, it won’t be too little, too late.


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