One defensive reply from those who favor legalizing and authorizing torture of military detainees is that those of us who oppose it are preening morally or subject to moral vanity. Unfortunately, when you passionately oppose an absolute moral evil, it is very hard to avoid such an impression. All I can say is that I do not think of myself as a moral exemplar in any way. I'm a guilt-ridden, self-hating Catholic who was nonetheless brought up to believe as a matter of fundamental morality that torturing another human being - the deliberate infliction of cruelty and suffering on a defenseless person - is categorically evil. Nothing can make it good. It cannot be placed in a utilitarian context, because its violation of human dignity is so grave it is an absolute evil. This, by the way, is not a marginal position for a Christian. No Christian church, authority or theologian justifies torture. Christianity condemns it without reservation. And the fact that the church itself has inflicted torture in the past has perhaps helped to make this stricture absolute.Of course, it's only weak-kneed bloggers who aren't willing to do whatever it takes to protect Americans, right? Actually, no. Here are a couple of retired generals, Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar:
As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.The study they're talking about is discussed in this Washington Post article:
To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.
More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier."Important information"? What is that? Where the insurgents are? How many there are? What they're planning to do next? A soldier's life might be saved by even marginally important information, so 4 in 10 soldiers are in effect saying we should abuse and torture every captured insurgent in Iraq. Due process? That's only for Americans buddy.
In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.
It would be silly to think that the Bush administration's ignorant and tyrannical torture policies are entirely to blame for this rot that's spread through the military. Our soldiers have also been brutalized by the continued occupation of Iraq, as evidenced by the belief on the part of many of them that Iraqi lives and property are unworthy of respect.
In that light, here's Andrew Sullivan on the wholesale acceptance of torture by the Republican party:
The fact that now a majority of Republican candidates proudly support such torture has rendered the GOP the party most inimical to liberty in America. When you combine torture's evil with the claims of the hard right that a president can ignore all laws and all treaties in wartime, and that "wartime" is now permanent, you have laid the ground for the abolition of the American experiment in self-government. Imagine another terror attack, with Rudy Giuliani as president, and a mandate to arrest and torture at will, with no need to follow or even address the rule of law. We would no longer be a republic. We would be in a protectorate of one man.If you think that this is an exaggeration, then quite frankly, you are a fool. Our country is in danger, from without and from within. Our fearful overreaction to the attacks on 9/11, an overreaction that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and several thousand American soldiers, produced Guantanmo Bay and secret prisons in Afghanitan and Europe and who knows where else, has resulted in the torture and deaths of both terrorists, insurgents and perfectly innocent men at the hands of CIA "operatives" and our soldiers, has weakened our democracy, weakened our country, and degraded our moral standing in the world.
America is in danger. And the danger is coming increasingly from within. This was Osama bin Laden's hope and plan - to destroy this country's freedom. He has been more successful than he could have imagined. And he's still alive to enjoy it.
Neither was our response an accident. Long before 9/11 there were those in and out of power who advocated for a stronger presidency, for the power to detain and torture, and for war in Iraq. After 9/11 they plotted, and thanks largely to the buffoon of a President that we saw fit to elect and re-elect, they were successful in their efforts. Even now there are those who seek to justify the excesses of this administration, and make the President the final arbiter of what is the law. Even now there are those in the administration who seek war against Iran, who wish to have torture written into the law of our land, who wish to place the President beyond the reach of the law and beyond the reach of accountability so long as what he does can be justified in the
"forever war" against terror (and everything can be justified in such a war.)
In my opinion, it's simply not good enough that come November of next year this approach will be entirely repudiated. The only response to this aggressive lawlessness and arrogance is investigation, public rejoinder, and where at all possible, criminal prosecution. History must record that the American people did more than choose a different approach when the time came. It must record that we rejected torture, unlimited executive power and war as forcefully as possible, and rebuked the men and women who saw fit to use the deaths of nearly 3,000 American citizens as an excuse for all three.