I am writing this entry to my blog after a lengthy absence from activity. I have not been feeling at my best and have had other work keeping me from this project. However, yesterday, Sunday May 3, 2009 I was stimulated back into action when I read an op-ed in my local paper The Flint Journal. I encountered an op-ed so horrible and evil in its underpinnings and implications that I felt compelled to write a reply. I have submitted that reply to the newspaper. Who knows if it will be published! They have printed two previous replies to this columnist to be fair. However, the point of view expressed requires that my thoughts be printed somewhere just in case and I think that I have had something to say. So this post is in response to John Tomlinson’s op-ed article ”Obama putting terrorists ahead of Americans” of May 3, 2009.
I want to begin very simply. Mr. Tomlinson, shame on you! You have treated a very serious topic with a superficial and cavalier attitude and approach. Our national character and influence have suffered as a result of the application of techniques of real torture. People have died, people who were never charged with a crime or given the right to trial and due process. Our leaders, in an American presidential administration, have betrayed the rule of law in the name of criminal and savage interrogation tactics. We now know that they were discussing and trying to approve of these tactics as early as late 2001. You should be ashamed of yourself for taking this position and the Flint Journal should be equally ashamed for giving you this platform for spreading this dreadful pabulum. It should be clear to any American that torture is against U.S. and international law, does not work, is immoral, puts our soldiers at risk for torture, and weakens American security and our international image and influence.
Not so Mr. Tomlinson. He begins with a standard right wing rather brainless canard that President Obama’s 3 month old administration is leading us down the path to communism, socialism, or in this article, Russia. The history buff in me wants to ask, which Russia—Tsarist, Communist, or neo-capitalist Putin? He then grossly and even grotesquely oversimplifies the torture inflicted by U.S. personnel and approved of in the Bush White House as, “face-slapping, depriving them of sleep and irregular meals.” Now, I don’t know if Mr. Tomlinson even bother s to read anything other than publications of the far right, but this is an insult to those who are trying to restore America’s moral standing and the rule of law. For this, Tomlinson should be ashamed and apologize. What is the left really upset about? Indeed, what is most of the world concerned and upset about? In a word, torture! However, this violation of national and international law requires a few more words apparently. To wit, water boarding (more in a bit), driving Jose Padilla insane, and the cumulative impact of combined “enhanced interrogation techniques.” We might also add the practice of rendition to various so-called black sites where anything goes such as in Saudi Arabia.
Tomlinson makes another feeble attempt to avoid the accusation of torture responsibility by defining the practice falsely. He claims that torture means “heinous and cruel wounding and/or cutting of human body parts for sadistic pleasure.” He may have found that definition somewhere, but it does not come close to the legal definition which I will quote for him and others who may have suffered misinformation by his sloppy argument. “Torture is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 2340. The definition of torture used is as follows:
"severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from - (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (C) the threat of imminent death; or (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality”
Amnesty International puts the issue in perspective. “The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture as "…the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering for purposes such as obtaining information or a confession, or punishing, intimidating or coercing someone." Torture is always illegal. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Every responsible national and international agency that has examined our actions regarding torture has concluded that either individually or cumulatively our interrogation tactics have equaled torture. Dick Cheney might not want to be responsible for his own actions and role in approving these tactics, but his desire does not change the reality of what he and his minions have done.
How does Mr. Tomlinson try to defend this heinous use of torture? He does so in 4 appalling ways. First, he tries to understate the nature of the techniques. Here is what the CIA says that water boarding involves. Compare it to the Tomlinson definition. “Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.”I might point out to Mr. Tomlinson that such treatment goes way beyond water up your nose. “’The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,’ said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.” Consider his description of water boarding. “Do you know how long one is waterboarded? Forty seconds. It sounds like the worst case of "water-up-your-nose" ever, and it makes people talk. Is that torture? Do you know how many people our country has waterboarded? For all the harangue on CNN and MSNBC about how immoral we are, only three people have been waterboarded, according to what's been released.” Well, since water boarding has been declared a war crime by sources far more reliable and credible that Mr. Tomlinson, then there are three war crimes that need to be prosecuted. Besides Mr. Tomlinson, if it is such a mild technique, just a little water up your nose, why such a robust effort to make it seem so trivial? Further, if it is such a mild tactic, why don’t you join your friend in the trenches Sean Hannity at Fox Noise and volunteer to undergo water boarding? But I doubt that you will do so. He has been too afraid too.
The second defense is his sad effort to justify an end to turning the other cheek by muddling the New Testament. Again, he says, “Torture is an issue for us as Christians because we're taught to love our enemies. That certainly precludes even enhanced interrogation. But then, the question of how many times one must turn the other cheek before ending the slapping has no biblical answer. The fact that we're genuinely struggling with "how to treat our enemies" shows we're still a Christian nation. Because without Christianity's moral strictures, e.g., "that we're endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights," why care about vile human debris trying to kill us?” Here he takes another page from the letter of Hannity to the Befuddled. Sorry Mr. Tomlinson, but “Christianity's moral strictures, e.g., "that we're endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights” is not in the Bible but in the Declaration of Independence and it is “unalienable.” Furthermore, as to the lack of an answer on how many times we must turn the other cheek, I have to tell you that the message is crystal clear. Jesus instructs us to put up their swords and love their neighbor as themselves, to do unto others, and to be peacemakers. He gives no legalistic loophole so that his future followers could slide through in order to make war or engage in such heinous acts as torture. For a thousand years, Christian leaders from Augustine and Aquinas with a little help from Pope Urban II (who twisted his theology to launch the first crusade by telling his blood thirsty knights that Scripture meant that it was only a sin to kill fellow Christians, not the unbeliever). Regarding his claim that there is no morality without religion, he makes a false claim here, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.
Third, Mr. Tomlinson lays claim to the end justifies the means when he says that it really isn’t such a bad thing, just a little water up the nose, but it makes people talk. This is the same basic logic of Mr. Cheney and it fails the smell test here too. We are a nation of means, of process. This is what is meant by rule of law. Since Watergate and Iran-Contra we have had radicals from the far right who have tried to hijack our government by promising us that we will keep liberty if we give control of it to them. Wrong again.
Four, he says that the left wants to put honest folks, who work every day for their country, in prison solely because their opinions didn't suit the left and he makes the astounding claim that this is what the Russians do. Well, maybe the Soviet Communists do it, but it is certainly less clear if the current neo-capitalistic government as coached by Friedman style economists do the same thing. Further, the left, the Congress, other countries, and a number of plaintiffs want to put people in jail, if convicted of crimes, for committing those very war crimes of which torture is among the worst. This is not a difference of opinion. This is about a group of powerful political figures, lawyers, and soldiers who said that torture is perfectly legal if we give it a new name and spin some convoluted logic around it. And Mr. Tomlinson, I’d like to introduce you to another fairly recent historical period, namely, the war crimes tribunals after WW II when we not only tried and convicted similar people for committing war crimes with the defense of “just following orders,” but we executed some of them.
Finally, it should be noted that water boarding has been declared to be torture by a number of highly reputable sources, including The International Red Cross which has long been recognized as a neutral authority on the subject, retired JAG justices, Amnesty International, among many others. Torture, in any of its forms, does not protect the United States. It makes us more vulnerable to future attack because it draws followers to those causes that advocate the destruction of our country. Torture does not work. Intelligence experts have come out in big numbers telling us this. Some have argued that, while it may make people talk, it produces totally unreliable information as the victim will tell you whatever they think you want to hear. The same experts will also note that real intelligence can be gained through conventional techniques.
Back in the sixties, there was a right wing slogan aimed at those who protested the war in Vietnam. The slogan was, “America: Love it or leave it!” I think the time has come to resurrect that slogan and aim it at a different group. To all of those who agree with Mr. Tomlinson that America should be a country without the rule of law, that believes in torture, that thinks that unprovoked war is good foreign policy, then I say to all of you today, America—Love it or leave it. I am sure you can get a visa to a country run in such a fashion. What they do with you I cannot imagine.
Whatever Mr. Tomlinson’s blind animosity is for those who opinions differ from his, justifying torture and pretending that it is not a horrific war crime is not the answer. He should be ashamed of the convoluted logic in this piece.