EDITORIAL: How Did Americans Become Torturers?
Most Americans of all political stripes are all for doing what the bumper stickers say: "Support Our Troops."
To many, the sticker really means: "Support the Bush administration in its handling of the war in Iraq and the war on terror."
Others, though, believe in other ways to support our troops. One important way is to try to decrease the chances that they will be tortured or abused if they're ever taken captive. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the Bush administration has behaved in negligent and reckless fashion in that regard, something for which the future will surely condemn us.
And how has this administration increased the chances that American prisoners will be mistreated? Simple. It has needlessly set a dangerous precedent. It has invited others to retaliate by routinely subjecting the foreign captives it holds to abuses so brutal that one recent investigator recently described them as "war crimes."
And who is this investigator? Some bleeding-heart left-winger, perhaps? Some soft-on-terrorism America-hater? No, that condemnation came from a retired U.S. Army major general.
His name is Antonio Taguba, and he is the one who led the official 2004 investigation into the disgraceful patterns of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. And now he has spoken out in a new report compiled by the group Physicians for Human Rights, which found that U.S. personnel used beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel treatment on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguma wrote in the report. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Members of the physicians' group said they had conducted in-depth medical and psychological examinations of former detainees -- not "terrorists," mind you, but suspects who had been released without charges after their captors concluded they had done nothing wrong. Yet the doctors and other experts found that the men had suffered abuses ranging from sleep deprivation, hooding and extreme isolation to electric shocks and severe beatings. One, they said, had been forced to drink urine.
Shades of the Gulag
Even if you choose not to believe a former two-star general and a respected international physicians' group, it's harder to explain away a number of documents from the U.S. government itself, recently made public by a Senate committee. They tell how Pentagon and administration officials debated ways to get around laws against torture and pushed for harsher interrogation tactics over the objections of the military itself.
And picture this: According to what the Senate committee learned, the keepers of these nightmarish prisons made a practice of hiding prisoners from visiting Red Cross inspectors and making sure the torturers were on their best behavior during such visits.
The 9/11 attacks were a powerful provocation, to be sure. Anti-terrorism isn't child's play. But we're supposed to be better and more humane than our enemies. Revelations such as the above, which sound like something out of the Soviet Gulag or some brutal banana republic, are enough to turn the stomachs of those of us who remember when Americans enjoyed a worldwide image as the good guys. The torture has to stop.
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