Thursday, September 13, 2007

As Bush Maintains a Stranglehold on Torture, he Further Strangles his Country’s Safety

If there is one thing that defines President Bush, it is that he never wavers in his support of his beliefs. Some praise his loyalty and persistence. Others sigh at what he unquestionably supports and groan at the lengths he goes to support it. Perhaps none of the President’s actions have drawn more breath than the aggressive interrogation methods applied to “enemy combatants” detained indefinitely without basic legal rights. Last July’s executive order was the latest statute implemented in a long line of legislation by a President that has not hesitated to supersede both the Geneva Conventions and various Supreme Court decisions regarding such methods. The President has exploited every legal loophole and has toed multiple Constitutional boundaries as he remodeled and reworded legislation so that he could retain the authority to detain any handful of people overseas and treat them however he pleased. The President thought that the techniques would succeed in making the country safer, and that the safety of the country justified the means. Unfortunately, the evidence, far from applauding the President’s judgment, shows not only that the aggressive techniques do not work, but that the internal and external repercussions of torture far outweigh any benefits the President hoped the procedures would bring.

Torture is as old as civilization itself. Ever since the formation of the first security forces torture techniques have been used to wrench information out of its victims. Whatever its form, the extraction of information through torture has always been justified by one thread of logic: the more aggressive and painful the methods of interrogation, the more and better quality information extracted. This thought is logical up to a point, but then makes the wrong conclusion. The basis of torture logic is man’s most fundamental instinct: avoiding pain at all costs. Based on this, torture logic follows that if a man knows that how much pain he suffers depends on the whim of another, then he will try to please that man so that the pain may stop. This logic is fine so far. But then it is assumed that the easiest way for the victim to appease his captor would be to reveal the truth, when in fact that it is far easier instead to tell the captor what he wants to hear. Anyone with experience interrogating prisoners will soon realize that, if under enough pain, prisoners will say anything for the pain to stop. He would confess to any wrongdoing; name any names; reveal any diabolical scheme, so long as it would spell the end of his suffering. Information harvested from torture is unreliable at best and misleading far too often. With detainees unearthing any answer requested, it is very easy to find evidence to support even the most obscure and absurd policies. The Bush Administration should know all too well by now the disastrous consequences of this, as they used evidence extracted during the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to formulate the argument that Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda, which they trumpeted to the public to gain support for the war. It seems that now al-Libi’s testimony was just the torture talking; he later admitted that his testimony was false, and that he said it in order to avoid cruel treatment. President Bush only had to look so far as the Army field manual to realize that the “use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results… and induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.” But the President is apparently so devoted to his beliefs that he will overlook any source that argues against his beliefs.

Now, America is reeling from the consequences of her President’s unwavering sentiment. The effort that the President put into making his beliefs reality has bred great internal turmoil for America. The torture taking place overseas has brought new life to the debates over the laws of war, the definition of torture, and the morality of such torture. These topics have become another set of ideological trenches that divide the American people. As debate rages over abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, among other things, does America really need another thing to divide her, particularly with an international terrorism conflict at her heels? Even more fiery debates have been ignited over the legality of torture. In his quest to make his beliefs reality, the President has pushed the law to the limit, and then some. He has weaseled his way through every logical roadblock by means of strict interpretation. He has looked at the wording of the law rather than the intent of the law. It is painful to watch America, supposedly the hearth of freedom and justice in this world, find excuses not only to torture, but to detain indefinitely with no practical means of challenging detention. While on his law-skirting ride, the President has brought the legitimacy of separation of powers into question by wielding power thought to be held by the courts and Congress (though, to be fair, Congress had been lulled by the Bush Administration into passing laws that augment executive power). The President has gone so far that he managed, without much of the public knowing it, to push a law through Congress, the Military Commissions Act (MCA), that strips us of our habeas corpus! How, one might ask, could this have possibly happened? One of the Act’s definitions of an enemy combatant is “a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006,” (that, by the way, makes it an ex post facto law, also unconstitutional) “has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.” This definition specifies any person – not any alien or any foreigner -- meaning it applies to anyone, including US citizens! Our freedom is now at the whim of the President and the Secretary of Defense. Sure, it says one would be tried under a “competent tribunal.” Sure, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Administration could not detain someone under the MCA without trying them. But really, after all Bush has done to bend the law, are any of these legal safeguards safe? If the Constitution’s safeguards aren’t even good enough, how can these things be any guarantee of freedom? The Separation of Powers – that centuries-old statute that has long been one of the cornerstones of our Constitution – has been charred, and now habeas corpus, almost a millennia old, is now gone. And why? For interrogation techniques that don’t even work.

As our President continues to defend and implement such futile techniques, he darkens our image abroad. In his quest to insulate America from terrorism, the President chose to defy the Geneva Conventions while continuing to criticize other nations’ human rights abuses. Any chapter of history, and for that matter life, would show that hypocritical behavior is a surefire path towards illegitimacy, and current events would serve as yet another proof for this theorem. Until very recently, America was the champion of the human rights movement, which made its scathing criticisms of human rights offenders abroad carry significant weight. Now, however, it is too easy for countries like Russia and China, long two of the most prolific offenders, to condemn the techniques practiced behind the bars of Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere in rebuttal to our continual allegations against them. By resorting to torture, America has rendered herself illegitimate as a human rights proponent. Not only has this set the human rights movement back decades, but it has also opened a rift between America and her allies, even as they grow more disdainful of her in the wake of the Iraq debacle and other unilateral antiterrorism foreign policy measures. Our interrogation policy is one of a growing number of reasons that make it very costly for nations to associate with us due to our growing unpopularity throughout the world. Every minute we torture someone fills a day’s airtime for various propaganda machines worldwide, particularly those of Iran, Venezuela, and Al Qaeda. Indeed by torturing people held indefinitely, we infuse legitimacy into Al Qaeda’s demonization of us, and as a result increase their following. Would any one of us soon forgive someone who tortured a loved one or a friend? Do not expect the peoples of the Middle East to be any more forgiving. When an innocent detainee is released finally, scarred for life, he will not forgive us. He will not understand our motives or sympathize with us. He will live in bitterness of us, and perhaps may even become what he was imprisoned for. When an unemployed Muslim youth listens to an Al Qaeda broadcast, he will not forgive us. He will heed the words of Osama Bin Laden and believe them to be true due to our actions. At the very least, he will likely frown upon America; oftentimes, such a person will swell the ranks of Al Qaeda. When an insurgent contemplates how to treat a captured US Marine, he will not forgive us. He will play by the rules of war – the ones we have played by. In war it has always been an eye for an eye, and despite the unique nature of this conflict, this ancient idiom holds true. The worse America treats Guantanamo detainees, the worse insurgents will treat American military and citizens they capture.

President Bush instituted torture because he thought it would make America safer. In the end, only the intention turned out to be applaudable. Torture, morality aside, does not even work. Torture has divided America and annihilated our most fundamental legal safeguards. Torture has alienated our allies, emboldened our enemies, and endangered our servicemen abroad. Torture has been misjudgment at its worst. And yet, the consequences will continue to pile up, as President Bush just took a recent step in the wrong direction. Maybe as the consequences become clearer, he will finally see the errors of his ways and start moving in the right direction again. Or maybe he will be forever condemned to condemn America by implementing what he believes is effective, necessary policy. If that is the case, at least he has less than two years left. Then again, it is daunting to think of the harm that can be done in two short years, and even more foreboding to think of what happens if his successor continues his mishap. More likely, though, is that this torture policy will be cleaned out along with Iraq policy. The big question is this: by that time, just how much lasting damage will it have done?

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