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Pay price of torture

After the attacks of 9/11 America responded in many ways that suggest we lost so much more than nearly 3,000 lives that day.

We lost a great deal of our privacy upon discovering that the NSA turned its information gathering inwardly to the U.S., while steadfastly denying that truth for a decade. We lost some constitutional privacy with the hastily passed wickedly named “Patriot” Act.

We lost more than 4,000 American lives in Iraq fighting a war without reason falsely connected by cynical politicians to 9/11.

And we lost the American character in places like Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, rendition locations and secret prisons across the planet established to conduct “enhanced interrogation” that became nothing different from torture.

And let there be no mistake, enhanced interrogation as reported this week by the Senate Intelligence Report of CIA conduct was exactly torture by U.S. Military Code of Justice and by U.S. treaty definitions and by U.S. law. Those among us who would call beheading an act of barbarism might be honest enough to note that allowing a detainee to freeze to death while chained to a floor is not a distinction that makes a difference.

Honest critics might acknowledge that the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, a purported “high value” detainee 45 minutes after being crucified by a procedure called a “Palestinian hanging” could hardly be dignified as anything other than torture.

And, according to the Senate report, at least 24 of the tortured detainees were innocent victims, accidently caught and tortured. Two of the men were actually CIA informants mistaken as enemy operatives.

Some still argue that torture works. Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney says he would advocate torture as happily today as he did previously. George Tenet, ex CIA Director says torture saved thousands of American lives. Others argue convincingly that the CIA was only doing what it was instructed to do by the government that employed it.

The arguments have merit. Those who have studied the effects of torture, or suffered from torture as has Sen. John McCain, know that torture will result in confessions and admissions.

Those admissions may not be true, but they will be offered fully and freely to end the torture. The quality of information gained is of low quality, but the volume is unlimited when torture is on the agenda.

As for saving American lives, the Senate report notes that the advocates of torture seem never to offer any specifics in that regard, suggesting a “trust us” argument that torture works. But then how do we trust people who are torturers? Their crimes are heinous almost beyond description, their remorse totally absent. Trust them that torture works? Hardly.

Still, the CIA doubtless was doing, at least in part, what the government wanted done. There is little doubt that the CIA acted with greater zeal than its sponsors may have intended, but there is no question that the CIA was not acting alone. The U.S. government provided legal cover with the AG’s Torture Memo’s, describing actions short of mutilation and death as acceptable and our traditional limitations on abuse as “quaint.”

And while the CIA may have withheld the gruesome details of torture to the congress, it was no secret that the boundaries of U.S. conduct against our prisoners had been removed in terms of honorable protection of human rights.

There are no innocents here. Neither Congress, nor the Bush or Obama administrations, nor the government agencies or individuals who oversaw or conducted torture deserve to stand a distance from these acts against our laws and character.

Justice here demands more than public acknowledgement of these crimes against humanity, it demands action. Anyone who participated in these programs should be banned from government service. Those who authorized torture should be granted pardons to protect them from prosecution, but present a public affirmation that we will never again tolerate these betrayals of our values.

The restoration of our national honor demands a price be paid for what we have done.

 

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.