What Senator John McCain modestly calls being “physically coerced” is more commonly referred to as torture. Whatever the Senator from Arizona calls it, his credibility is unassailable. He survived five years as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam during some of which he was subjected to what his new anti-torture bill in Congress wants to ban—“cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. McCain’s bill passed the Senate 90-9 and awaits review by the House, but the Bush Administration is opposed to such limits.
Since 9/11 and the War on Terror against Al Qaeda and similar forces, American agents and military personnel, with the blessings of the Bush Administration, have used so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques to garner intelligence from detainees. Enhanced interrogation techniques, sometimes called “torture lite,” involve the use of dogs, public nakedness, prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, detainee phobias, “waterboarding,” long term hooding, forced lengthy standing, squatting, or other physically stressful positioning—anything short of “organ failure” or death. The worst case scenario to date is what has been called abuses by rogue soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
“War is hell,” said General William Tecumseh Sherman in a famous Civil War line that describes all armed conflict. And during the final push ending World War II we discovered just how awful hell can be.
But the American soldier has always been different, so much so that noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose observed that German, Polish, and Russian troops fighting for the Nazi Army would at times eagerly surrender, knowing that Americans would treat them well and thus their chances of surviving the war were greatly increased.
The record of the American soldier is the G.I. with candy, the citizen soldier that just wanted to get the job done as soon as possible and go home. He or she hated war and might learn in combat to hate the enemy’s tactics but generally did not hate the people. Americans didn’t want territory; they wanted justice.
McCain wants to preserve this record. He doesn’t want troops from this nation to act like the enemy. He believes the U.S. military and intelligence agencies need rules, limits beyond which an officer cannot go in an attempt to extract information from a helpless prisoner. He believes mistreatment of enemy prisoners will ultimately place American prisoners of war at greater risk because the enemy will retaliate in kind. McCain argues that torture techniques really don’t provide that much actionable intelligence anyway. The point is, Americans have been and should continue to be different.
America should listen to John McCain. America needs to take the long view. It stands for values too precious to be muddied or lost in the storms of current conflict, however severe the test may be. Respect for life, individual dignity, and the inestimable value of the human being are Christian values that have, thankfully, become American values. Torture terribly sullies this picture.
Torture is an affront not only to human sensibility but to our very souls. The Word of God clearly draws a line at animal cruelty let alone abusive treatment to those made in the image of God. There are other ways to gain intelligence.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2005
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