What Kind of Nation Are We? NYT, Pres. Carter

When I was in college I was introduced to Amnesty International. Since then I have valued this organization and supported its work in many ways. In my early 30's I started and was a co-leader a local group in my neighborhood. I've always supported AI financially. Why? For many reasons, but perhaps most of all because torture is wrong. Sinful. Evil. It always wounds the body, of course, but it also always wounds the soul. --The soul of the one who tortures as well as the one tortured.

I was on the streets of City to the East in February and again in March of 2003, demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq. It was wrong, wrong, wrong and I knew this administration was making a huge mistake. I felt anger down to my bones. But I'm a child of Watergate and Vietnam, so administrations making huge mistakes wasn't new. I've never known an American administration that made torture a matter of policy, acknowledged or not. When the photophaphs from Abu Ghraib were published, I felt shame at being an American. Real, deep, tortuous shame.

Abu Ghraib, secret renditions, Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush Administration has announced to the world that we lack the courage of our best convictions. We've become bullies, preemptively invading weaker countries and torturing people held prisoner. At their core, bullies are always weak. And terribly, dreadfully frightened. Panelists on the Diane Rehm show today were talking about the NYT's article that revealed yet more secret memos justifying torture. A man called in who said something like "Look, the bottom line is we've got to do whatever it takes. Bush is right. If torturing some terrorist means we stay safe, then that's exactly what we should do." That's the attitude of a coward--a coward and a very small and horribly ignorant person. From reading the many fine publications from Amnesty International over the years, I know that torture degrades. One's humanity simply cannot be maintained. And I'm talking about the torturer, the one who tortures. We have become a nation that tortures human beings. As an American, it is in my name that this is happening. Oh, the shame, the shame.

Here's an editorial from the New York Times yesterday:

Torture and American Values
Published: October 7, 2007--Editorial, New York Times

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if anot their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods — simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation — had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That allowed the White House to claim that it did not condone torture, and to stampede Congress into passing laws that shielded the interrogators who abused prisoners, and the men who ordered them to do it, from any kind of legal accountability.

Mr. Bush and his aides were still clinging to their rationalizations at the end of last week. The president declared that Americans do not torture prisoners and that Congress had been fully briefed on his detention policies.

Neither statement was true — at least in what the White House once scorned as the “reality-based community” — and Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was right to be furious. He demanded all of the “opinions of the Justice Department analyzing the legality” of detention and interrogation policies. Lawmakers, who for too long have been bullied and intimidated by the White House, should rewrite the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act to conform with actual American laws and values.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

This is an easy choice.

And here is a report about former President Jimmy Carter's statement.

Pres. Carter: US tortures prisoners, 'I know it'
by David Edwards and Jason RhynePublished: Wednesday October 10, 2007

Former president Jimmy Carter isn't just suspicious that the US is using torture to extract intelligence from detainees -- he's absolutely convinced. Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if, by Carter's definition of the word, the United States had used torture during the Bush administration, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was adamant: "I don't think it, I know it," he said. "Certainly."

Pressed by Blitzer on whether that meant that President Bush was lying, Carter was equally clear. "The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners," said Carter."Yes."

Earlier in the interview, Carter said Bush's denial this week that the US did not in fact torture detainees was "not an accurate statement if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don't violate them," he added, "and you can make your own defintion of torture and say we don't violate them."

Carter was equally outspoken in a Wednesday interview with the BBC, calling Vice President Dick Cheney a "disaster," according to Reuters. "He's a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military," he said of Cheney, adding that the vice president "has been most forceful in the last 10 years or more in fulfilling some of his more ancient commitments that the United States has a right to inject its power through military means in other parts of the world."

"You know he's been a disaster for our country," Carter continued. "I think he's been overly persuasive on President George Bush and quite often he's prevailed."

His frankness is just so appealing, so refreshing.


Terri said…
yes. shame. it breaks my heart...
Mystical Seeker said…
To me, there are few things in life more fundamentally evil to the core than torture. The sad thing is that the Supreme Court has ruled that victims of torture have no recourse to sue.

Like you, I protested against this war from the beginning. I would go further than characterizing the Iraq war as a mere mistake (or Watergate or Vietnam, for that matter). To me, a mistake is a well-intentioned policy that went wrong; I think of Iraq (and Vietnam) as bad policies based on unjustifiable goals from the beginning. I am pretty cynical about the political processes in the US, though.
RevDrKate said…
There is a creeping evil about this war and all connected with it that wakes me in the night and makes me pray very, very hard. Thanks for another good reminder for us all that we need to find ways to be a force against it.
Katherine E. said…
"Creeping evil," yes, Kate. Well said.

I think you're right, Mystical Seeker. If I re-wrote that post that is something I would change. It's more than "mistake." I definitely agree that the goals (both the real one/s and the stated ones) were unjustifiable.
Jan said…
Katherine, I've been re-reading this post several times. You wrote so eloquently about what torture does to all involved that I wish more people could read your words. It is violence done that affects us all. I am so sad and distraught, while my daughter AE gets angrier and angrier. Anger is good, because it empowers one to act. I'm not sure what I'm called to do--which goes along with your post above this one about courage. . . .

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