Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dordt Diamond Column: Moving on from torture

“I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques.”

- Former Vice President Dick Cheney, ABC News, February 14, 2010

“Waterboarding” is strapping a person to a board, putting a cloth on his face, and pouring water over the cloth to make him feel like he’s drowning. The experience is said to be unbearable, and can cause lasting psychological harm. Some of the other “enhanced interrogation techniques” Cheney refers to include keeping prisoners awake for weeks, forcing them into stress positions for days, and keeping them in a cold cell and repeatedly dousing them with frigid water.

The Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against terrorism suspects has been open knowledge for years now. Still, Cheney’s brazen admission on national TV to supporting the use of these techniques has renewed calls from the left to prosecute Cheney and other administration officials for the crime of conspiring to torture. President Obama has rejected this idea out of hand.

The Bush administration’s most enduring legacy will be its overall success in the war on terror. Al Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, Iraq is moving away from extremism and towards democracy, and terrorist attacks have dropped across the globe.

Yet this success is deeply stained, not only with horrendous tactical mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with the moral compromises the administration made to reach its goals. The worst of these compromises was violating American and international law by using torture to extract intelligence from captured terrorists.

In the past, the United States has been only too willing to forgive crimes committed during successful wars. Abraham Lincoln’s illegal suspension of habeas corpus rights, Franklin Roosevelt’s interment of Japanese-Americans, and Harry Truman’s use of atomic weapons against Japanese civilians were never prosecuted. We moved on.

Still, America has obviously not come to terms with the fact that our government tortured people – some of them innocent. We haven’t moved on. The fact that our former vice president openly calls for torture to resume on national talk shows is evidence of this. Writer Glenn Greenwald asks a valid question: “What would stop a future President...from re-authorizing waterboarding and the other Bush/Cheney torture techniques if he decided he wanted to?”

I don’t have any good suggestions for this one. But something needs to be done to ensure that this sorry chapter in our nation’s history is closed for good.

1 comment:

  1. I hope law of Karma works!

    This is not a pun, as I have Mahatma Gandhi as my profile pic. ;)