Cruel, Inhuman and Perfectly Acceptable

Cruel, Inhuman and Perfectly Acceptable

"I think what's going on in Guantanamo Bay and other places is a disgrace to the U.S.A."
Former president Jimmy Carter, winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

In November of 2003, one Iraqi prisoner, an insurgent group leader in Qaim, was interrogated for sixteen days then beaten by Iraqi paramilitaries with fists, a club and a length of rubber hose while American Army officials watched. Two days later, an Army interrogator and a military guard stuffed the prisoner into a sleeping bag, tied it closed and beat him until he died.

That's just one incident from among hundreds of documented cases of prisoner abuse by American soldiers, CIA operatives, Department of Defense interrogators and foreign nationals working with US authorities. Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, the Air Force deputy judge advocate general, has said that at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and inside Iraqi prisons, the "more extreme interrogation techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law as well as military law."

The Bush administration also outsources torture through it's "extraordinary rendition" program. A Pentagon spokesman has confirmed that detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Pakistan, Russia, Morocco and Saudi Arabia - all countries the State Department criticizes for practicing torture against its own people. And, of course, the CIA has its own program going in dark and secret places. "The fact that there are underground CIA facilities somewhere where people are being tortured has been known for a while," says Michael Ratner of the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City.

As much as we disapprove of the torture other humans, it's easy to understand how it happens so often. In a war zone, when bullets start flying, human emotions peak - fear and hatred, anger and survival dominate all other feelings. That emotional state exists in POW camps almost as strongly. When people who have been trained to see each other as enemies are forced into close contact, bad things happen.

That same dynamic has always existed in our prison system, although convicted felons are supposed to be protected by law against physical and mental abuse. Those who guard the prisoners tend to use whatever force will accomplish the task at hand. Administrators speak publicly of humane treatment, but allow mistreatment as long as it's done quietly. Things can turn ugly fast in such an environment.

I know that to be true from a dozen years of working in the youth correctional system. The crisis mentality that everyone adopts to work in a prison became something I used to justify cruel and unnecessary behavior towards inmates. And it was surprisingly easy to do things that I ashamed of today, when every day I witnessed others doing things far worse.

I lost all claims to moral authority inside that prison yard because of my own behavior. Our country loses any claim to moral authority in the world society when we allow the torture and murder of "detainees" or "enemy combatants". No other country will listen to our government representatives moralize about the sanctity of life, freedom or human rights when we don't practice those principles ourselves.

230 soldiers have been charged with abuse of prisoners. That's not just the behavior of a few bad apples, that's a systemic problem. But no soldier of high rank or government official in the Defense Department, who are charged with the responsibility of overseeing those soldiers and maintaining the system, is being held accountable for what has occurred. And why should they? Our new Attorney General openly advocated for the use of abusive tactics and violations of the Geneva Convention, so who will hold them accountable?

The sanction of abuse and torture stands in opposition to every principle of human rights that gave birth to this nation. It is reprehensible to most of the civilized world. Any individual who orders the beating of another human being or carries out such an order is a criminal by any rational definition, and is likely a borderline sociopath as well.

The US Senate has voted 90-9 to adopt uniform standards for anyone detained by the Defense Department. They would limit interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army field manual and prohibit the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in US custody. Senator John McCain released a letter from more than a dozen retired generals, admirals and former prisoners of war offering support for his legislative amendment. The letter says, in part, "The abuse of prisoners hurts America's cause in the war on terror, endangers US service members who might be captured by the enemy, and is anathema to the values Americans have held dear for generations."

Still, nine Senators voted against adding the McCain amendment to the military spending bill that will help fund the NeoCon War On Terror - Senators Allard (CO), Bond (MO), Coburn (OK), Cochran (MS), Cornyn (TX), Inhofe (OK), Roberts (KS), Sessions (AL), and Stevens (AK). That's unacceptable for any reason. If only one piece of legislation ever deserved a unanimous vote on the Senate floor, this amendment would be that one.

President Bush has threatened to veto the spending bill that contains McCain's amendment, "if legislation is presented that would restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice." That's his way of saying that he wants to retain his self-granted authority to order the torture of prisoners.

It's may also be the Bush Administration's way of sending a tough message to terrorists and their sympathizers. Unfortunately, the threat of torture isn't going to put much fear into someone who has chosen to be a suicide bomber. It will, however, inspire more violence against Western society, and lead to the death of more American soldiers and innocent bystanders.

That doesn't seem to trouble our Commander-In-Chief. Watch closely when he speaks, listen carefully to the tone of his words and you'll see and hear his lack of emotional attachment to the daily sacrifice of lives that his war requires. Notice that he does not speak of the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people who have already died, and are still dying, from bombs dropped on their cities by US warplanes.

George W. Bush claims that we overthrew Saddam Hussein because, in part, he was guilty of torturing his own people. Bush says that we are in a war with terrorists who hate the American way of life. The torture and murder of prisoners was not an acceptable part of Iraqi life. Although it happens here at home, it isn't an acceptable part of the American way of life, either. This shame and disgrace to our nation must stop now.

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