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Different, better and stronger’

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, November 9, 2005

This is a column about torture, and in particular the torture that has been practiced by all branches of the U.S. military and by the CIA for the past several years, and which is only now (long after it first came to light) getting the media attention it deserves. There is a vast amount of documentary evidence on the subject, thousands of pages in lurid detail, and most of it can speak for itself.

Typically I devote a great deal of time to carefully developing rhetorical arguments. For this piece I have abandoned that style, because in the face of the evidence and the nature of the crimes, each of us knows that torture is wrong, even those who support its use against our enemies. What the proponents of torture believe is that is it is necessary to defend our freedom. What I propose to you, and what I feel the selections below indicate, is that the existence of torture in a free society, for any reason, is inherently inconsistent, and indeed a far greater threat to everything we believe in than all the terrorists in the world put together.

Senator John McCain to the U.S. Senate: “I have been asked before where did the brave men I was privileged to serve with in Vietnam draw the strength to resist … Our enemies didn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us knew, every single one of us knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them. That faith was indispensable not only to our survival, but to our attempts to return home with honor.”

Official council of Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee: “Any effort to apply Section 2340A [which incorporates the Convention Against Torture into U.S. law] in a manner that interferes with the President’s direction of such core war matters as detention and interrogation of enemy combatants thus would be unconstitutional.”

(Reportedly another Justice Department memo, still classified, goes so far as to claim that Congress has no constitutional authority to interfere with the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief. Since then the United States has opened several interrogation camps in such freedom-friendly nations as Thailand and Russia. Twenty-eight detainees have been tortured to death.)

Official testimony of a detainee at Abu Ghraib, Iraq: “They stripped me naked, they asked me, ‘Do you pray to Allah?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said ‘Fuck you’ and ‘Fuck him.’ Someone else asked me ‘Do you believe in anything?’ I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, ‘But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'”

(It is worth noting that, according to official documents, as many as 90 percent of the detainees at Abu Ghraib are innocent civilians collected through random and poorly organized night sweeps of the Iraqi countryside. If the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism are propaganda wars, then the actions at Abu Ghraib are simply incompetent.)

From the official investigation of Abu Ghraib: “On another occasion DETAINEE-07 was forced to lie down while M.P.s jumped onto his back and legs. He was beaten with a broom and a chemical light was broken and poured over his body… During this abuse a police stick was used to sodomize DETAINEE-07 and two female M.P.s were hitting him, throwing a ball at his penis and taking photographs.”

Senator John McCain to the U.S. Senate: “[W]e are obliged to make clear to [our solders]… that they are always, always – through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss – they are always, always Americans, and different, better and stronger than those who would destroy us.”

Anthony Lagouranis, former Army specialist: “I think our policies required abuse. There were freaking horrible things people were doing. I saw [detainees] who had feet smashed with hammers. One detainee told me he was forced by Marines to sit on an exhaust pipe, and he had a softball-sized blister to prove it. The stuff I did was mainly torture lite: sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, hypothermia. We used dogs.”

Excerpt from H.R. 2863, approved by the Senate 90 to 9 and currently in Joint Committee: “No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [as defined by 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments].”

(The Bush administration strongly opposes this legislation.)

Lance Gallop is a 2005 graduate of Notre Dame. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at [email protected]. In particular he would like comments on the experimental format used in this column.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.