11.14.2005

anyone else disturbed by this?

[1] Bush Declares: 'We Do Not Torture' http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/07/AR2005110700521.html [2] The Vice President appears on Meet the Press with Tim Russert http://www.whitehouse.gov/vicepresident/news-speeches/speeches/vp20010916.html _____ I'm unclear on all of this stuff. Do we support torture or don't we? If the answer is 'yes' or an equivocal 'no'--meaning in some cases we do, in others we don't--then I'm not sure what kind of moral high ground we can take compared to any of our enemies, so-called. In fact, if torture is allowed to be practiced by anyone supported by our government--if Cheney's "by any means necessary" is applied to anyone who is seen to be at odds with our government or our country--then in what sense could we call ourselves a democracy? Sure, we allow people to express themselves verbally. But to openly resist the government; that's not permitted. And we'll stop you from doing anything about your ideology (if it conflicts with our government's)..."by any means necessary"? Granted, supporters of the "by any means necessary" clause might say that only "terrorists" or potential terrorists or terrorists-in-training are liable to be tortured. As long as I pay my taxes, I'm ineligible for torture. For now. But how long does it take to change the focus of an "in this case" clause from being exclusively used on citizens of other countries to being able to be used on "enemy combatants" in our own country? And then how many more steps until it's able to be applied to those that are not clearly "combatants," though they are clearly "enemies" of the state? It's just too slippery of a slope for my comfort. I like what Capt. Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division said:
While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq.... Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation, and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ... Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

10 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Disturbed, disappointed, saddened, etc. I fear that we are creating a new generation of soldiers who will return home like their Vietnam counterparts and have to spend the rest of their lives coping with what we've asked them to do. And I think it's fair to say that we all stand blameworthy for it, not just those in leadership of the government, because we put them there.

I'm guessing that you got the graphic from a Sojourner's email; at least that's where I saw it first. I wish it showed Bush and Cheney with more seriousness than I thought it did. There isn't much that's funny about what's going on in all this.

Seeking permission to torture, apparently using horrific weapons like white phosphorus against "the enemy"...it reminds me of a t-shirt I read as a teen: "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." It's scarey stuff.

I am glad to know that there are members of the armed services who are speaking out publically; probably risking any future in the military. We have to listen and respond, too. Thanks for the post.

11/15/2005 12:28 PM  
Blogger e said...

Jim--hi there! thanks for commenting. i did find this at sojourners and i agree that it's message is very serious but conveys it in a sort of quasi-humorous way. not sure it works. but it was a good point-by-point illustration of the general confusion on this issue. confusion that i would argue is intentional--our leaders (not just Bush and Cheney) do not want to get nailed down to any one position, for fear that they'd have to defend it against staunch criticism of one kind or another.

but if they heed any criticism they might receive from those who think we shouldn't be hamstrung by moral codes that prevent torture, then i would liken them to the immoral enemies of our state that they purport to be defending us from. in other words, they would become, in my mind, wolves in sheep's clothing warning all of us sheep about the potential danger from unsuspected wolf attacks.

i don't mean to be either ironic or unnecessarily cynical. i really think that we need to take a clear stand on this issue so that the voting public and the world can know what kind of people our governmental representatives are.

11/15/2005 3:48 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

I read this article too, Erik.

'When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States?'

That smacked me in the face the most.

11/15/2005 8:23 PM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

E, I agree that treating prisoners in the way described above is "inhumane" and violates our own Constitution.

However, I quote William Tecumseh Sherman that "War is Hell". My question is where do we draw the line between winning at all costs, and doing something on the scale of murder because Sherman felt it was justified using scorched earth methods to break The South's will to fight. The U.S. thought it was justified using the A-Bomb over Japan to end the war? Again where do you draw the line

11/16/2005 12:27 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

Oh, Erik. I miss the days when you and I could play good cop/gay cop with our clients.

Sigh.

11/16/2005 2:05 PM  
Blogger e said...

Hi Scott. Good question. Here's the best I can do for a response:

Our confusion regarding the status of the United States and torture rests upon an even deeper confusion, as you've suggested here. We should be first asking: What is war? Or, so as not to be too philosophical about it: What is the United States currently involved in in Iraq?

If the answer is "a war"--and I'm not sure we are involved in a war any more--then our definition of war must have changed dramatically from the Civil War (sherman) and WWII (the a-bomb) to now. No doubt in those two wars, there were clearly divided lines between opposing forces. There was a clear sense of whose territory you were fighting on and over. There was a clear objective--in both cases, the surrender of the opposition.

In Iraq we have none of those things.

But we have even a larger problem when torture is being discussed, namely that many, if not all, of our reasons for getting into the Iraq conflict in the first place were predicated on the immoral/unjust actions and policies of Sadaam Hussein and the Baath party--and the potential evils they could inflict upon the US given their lack of morality. So if there was any justification for shooting instead of diplomacy, it was that "they don't play fair". The follow-up justification was "we do play fair and we want to make them play fair."

Torture, by any rational human's standards, is not "playing fair." In medieval times--even up to the witch trials of the 1600s--torture was used to employ a physical "correction" to what was seen as a spiritual problem. In the 21st century, in the secularized West at least, we now have no such delusions about the efficacy of torture to cleanse souls.

If a Western country, Christian or not, chooses to use torture, we can only surmise that they are not doing it to cleanse souls. Rather, we're right to feel that there is a political/social/military purpose behind torture practiced by a military or governmental body.

If the country that practices torture also says it supports the notion of "human rights," we would be right to question their committment to those rights or their definition of those rights. And if that country is a democracy where the individual is supposed to have a role in the governance of the country, we would be right to be afraid that the government officials were not really committed to the notions of human rights amongst its own populace.

So to sum up:
1) it's not clear by any definition of the term "war" that we're at it with any defined group.
2) Though war may be hell, there isn't any political justification for torture when not at war.
3) Any agency/group of officials that is willing to hold to a notion of human rights so loosely that torture would be acceptable under even a single circumstance is a group that we should be very wary of.

Sorry this got so long.... Good comment. Argue back, cause I'd like to continue this.

11/16/2005 3:13 PM  
Blogger e said...

John-- I thought that was part of the job description of project manager at element!?!

If Kara is underperforming in this area, perhaps you should have a serious talk with her.

11/16/2005 3:15 PM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

So to sum up:
1) it's not clear by any definition of the term "war" that we're at it with any defined group.
2) Though war may be hell, there isn't any political justification for torture when not at war.
3) Any agency/group of officials that is willing to hold to a notion of human rights so loosely that torture would be acceptable under even a single circumstance is a group that we should be very wary of.


Sorry this got so long.... Good comment. Argue back, cause I'd like to continue this.

E, I am going to try to respond to your question, and I’ll take the Cheney position:

1) We are fighting an enemy that considers any westener a target. Terrorism is not limited to governments, army, or officials that work for the opposition government. Albert Camus was the first modern to support killing French Civilians living in Algeria. The Algerians adopted these tactics from the IRA. Terrorism by its name sake uses fear as a weapon to demoralize and break the will of your enemy. Whether its state sponsored terrorism (the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the Shah of Iran, Ghengis Khan, or Sulla in Greece), or quasi-military cells (PLO, Hamas, IRA, or Al-Queda, Native American War bands on the American Frontier), most targets are not military targets anymore.

2) The examples of civilians being targeted would be the recent terrorist bombings in Jordon, the hostage situation in Chechenya, the suicide bombers in Israel, etc. They consider nationality, religion, and race justification for killings.

3) Any moral and just nation state that responds in the same manner, and uses the same tactics is just as guilty.

4) Lastly, I believe we are on a slippery slope to where our human rights as Americans will be sold out for national security.

I don’t know if I am answering your question, but personally, I am against the use of torture. All I can say is that the only person that can straighten this whole mess out is Jesus.

I guess the same argument can be used for using WMD's such as nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and electric pulse weapons as a justification to win this war.

Just my two cents.

11/17/2005 12:56 PM  
Blogger e said...

Scott--those seem like reasonable responses to me.

I'm as much in favor of stopping terrorism as the next person. I just think that we need to look at some of the systemic problems and injustices that cause people to feel as if terrorism is the only way to gain some level of justice in the world.

If the West (especially the US) maintains its present course rewarding the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the the poor and weak then we will never see an end to the present levels violence. We may see small improvements here and there as political band-aids are applied to small issues of injustice. But without sweeping change, there will be no peace. I don't think our conservative friends in Washington are able to think outside of their present economic box enough to understand that.

11/18/2005 4:43 PM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

E, I think you hit the nail on the head. The real problem is sin, and selfishness.

It all goes back to the haves and havenots that Marx talked about. You have a minority group in power that controls all of the wealth, and then you have the majority that is poor, weak due to famine, disease, and violence. You have Catholic priests in Latin America justifying violence (liberation theology) against the minority and
powerful just as you have muslim clerics calling for jihad against the royal family in Saudi Arabia because of how wealth and westernization has corrupted them.

The question is how do you change that without Jesus divine intervention?

11/21/2005 8:32 AM  

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