Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Torture. How Is This Even a Discussion?

Did the Bush Administration torture people? Of course they did. Even they don't bother denying it. Of course, they call it "enhanced interrogation techniques". Right...

What I want to know is, who cares who knew? I mean, we can figure that out eventually. This is the Information Age, after all, and the days of secrets are pretty much dead. Try being a Congressman and having an affair if you don't believe me. Did Nancy Pelosi know? Yeah, probably. Was she in a position to do anything to stop it? Probably not, other than go to the press. And in Washington, you want to be very careful before you start whistle blowing on your fellow politicians. Odds are if you have some dirt on someone, then someone else probably has some dirt on you. That's my theory: Pelosi knew, and was somehow leveraged into silence. I could be wrong.

But apart from the whole "who knew what and when did they know it" sideshow is the heart of the matter. We have people who ordered torture, and that order filtered down through a succession of lawyers. The wording cleansed in such a way as to make it all nice and legal, and then it was passed to the people who actually had to carry it out. The government employees, the CIA, the military, all got their hands dirty. At any point, someone could have gotten an attack of acute decency. They could have refused to participate, they could have gone to the press, any number of things could have happened to stop the process.

But no one succeeded in stopping it, and it happened. We tortured. Us, the good guys, we tortured people. Against every instinct of decency, against all the logic that suggests information obtained during torture is unreliable at best, against every international treaty we ever signed, we tortured. Whether you call it "enhanced interrogation" or some other abuse of the English language, it matters little to the guy on the receiving end.

And now that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have left office, it falls on the new administration to decide what to do. First and most obvious, we stop the torturing. Not only is it illegal, it is pointless. We could round up every member of the Taliban and al Qaeda and torture them until the cows come home and it won't bring back the people who died on 9/11. It won't bring back the Twin Towers. It won't guarantee we'll be safe from future attacks. Quite the opposite: if anything, it's more likely to foment hostility towards the United States.

So what to do? I'm sorry; maybe the answer is obvious to me because I'm not in politics. We round up every person involved, from the people who made the decision to torture, through all the buffer levels of people who cleaned up the wording, to the people who actually performed the torturing. We round them all up, regardless of political affiliation, and we charge them with war crimes. We charge them with crimes against humanity. We charge them with violations of the Geneva Convention. If necessary we turn them over to the World Court in The Hague, where politics cease to matter. We try them in the courts. And if we find them guilty, we punish them. We incarcerate them. We have them executed if need be.

This isn't about the war on terror. As I've said before, there IS no war on terror. This is about something much simpler and at the same time much more profound. It is about right and wrong. We cannot strut the world's stage in the guise of "the good guys" without stopping periodically to look around and ask ourselves what the right thing is. We have a choice here, whether to hold those people accountable for embarrassing our nation as they have. We have the opportunity to claim the mantle of "hero" on the world's stage and take a stand for what is right, even if we end up throwing people from both parties under the bus in the process.

And make no mistake, the world is watching. The decisions we make will go a long way towards forming opinions abroad. And if we fail to do the right thing here, if we fail to hold those people accountable, then the next time we are attacked, we dare not ask "why do people hate Americans?" This is why. Because we commit atrocities and then we fail to hold those people to the rule of law. It is simple.