By Mark David Blum, Esq.
To paraphrase former President Bush in a speech given in prime time on September 11, 2006, “we are in the midst of the great ideological battle of the Second Millennium.” He called it the “battle for civilization.” I couldn’t agree more. That battle was born in fear and panic and generated a new ideology that the ends justify the means.
President Obama has let the sunshine in and released several memos written by the Justice Department which show that Americans tortured prisoners. We waterboarded, we locked prisoners in boxes with bugs, we slapped and slammed prisoners around, we paraded prisoners around naked and deprived them of sleep for more than 10 days. America was in a panic in the 9/11 aftermath and we responded in the worst possible fashion. Today, we debate the question of whether such harsh treatment of prisoners was justified because doing so yielded results.
I would carry President Bush’s 9/11 message one step further. I argue that we now stand at the precipice of change. However which way we leap, our next move will be drastic and our society will be changed forever. The question becomes one of whether we will continue with the attitude and behavior last seen in the 1930’s with the rise of the German National Socialists. Are we the People who lost our humanity to fear and adopted policy to respond to attack with extreme and cruel punishment of prisoners.
Former President Bush changed us into the Generation that abandoned the American constitution and her principles of liberty, honor, and integrity because we so fear a terrorist bomb. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the lawyers at Justice gave us this social transfusion of ideology. How quickly they convinced us to surrender our soul for some small amount of safety. Former Vice President Cheney is now demanding release of all the torture memos because he wants us to see how the torture worked. What he does not want released is how many times torture yielded worthless results. We can agree that torture does work to a certain extent. Senator John McCain confessed that he broke and told what he knew during his torture at the Hanoi Hilton.
Today we debate what is and is not torture. The so-called ‘Greatest Generation’ and every generation before them would never have that discussion. Like fresh bread, every true and honorable American knows torture and needs no further elaboration thereof. Americans treat human beings like human beings.
How would you judge a society where American soldiers were by Executive fiat and consent, torturing prisoners at secret prisons throughout the world, where our own Government engaged in willful, blatant, in-your-face illegal spying on Americans here at home, and where now we now constantly have to prove to police that we are doing nothing wrong and have nothing to hide.
Osama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda destroyed buildings and murdered three thousand Americans in an unprovoked attack. Our nation responded. But then, President Bush and the Republicans turned the war against our own nation. They lied and dragged us into the Iraq quagmire. Republican policies and our nation’s former leaders have killed more Americans in Iraq and destroyed more buildings, and disrupted our own economy far worse than did our enemies.
All these abuses are willful acts perpetrated intentionally. We all share the blame. The President and Vice President planned it. Intelligence Services executed it both in Cuba and in Iraq. They brought in Chinese interrogation “experts” to show us how to get it done. Lawyers trained and guided the President how to end-run the law and avoid prosecution. Congress treated it like a big joke. The media hid the story. American doctors and psychologists participated in the torturing of prisoners. Alan Dershowitz suggested it was OK to torture; we just need “rules” for it. The former Attorney General argued the Courts have nothing to say about it. We the People have to now accept the Nuremburg Defense and insulate the torturers.
Believe me, I understand the rage: The rage of September 11th, the Rage of Nick Berg, the Rage of Madrid, and 100 Tel Aviv bombings. I understand the Rage of war and the stress of combat. The only rule of war for the soldier is to kill the enemy; period. I get it. My heart hurts for the American soldiers killed in Iraq and the families of tens of thousands wounded.
But, the ends do not justify the means. The Bush Administration knew information gathered from these abuses cannot be used in a criminal prosecution. They never intended to offer such evidence. The War on Terror has changed the scenario where the bad guys are no longer criminals nor are they military opponents. Despite being human beings, captured ‘terrorists’ have no legal standing in any court. Right or wrong, this is the current U.S. policy.
Tell your concerns to the survivors of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge. Share your fears with those who walked the Bataan Death March. It matters a lot how we treat people; whether they are civilian criminals or military targets. Every one is a human being. Americans do not build camps, interrogate by torture, and openly violate the law for the purposes of War. Our history is to the contrary. It would be considered “Un-American”. "Men who take up arms against another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings responsible to one another." (General Order 100 of the United States Army Field Manual of 1863).
Forget the enemy. Let him die. Let him suffer pain and angst ten thousandfold for what he has done to us. He made us kill him and we should show no mercy on the battlefield.
But my greater concerns lie with the soul of our nation and with the souls of my children. For my nation, it pains me that we no longer maintain the moral high ground. Ours is not the dream others seek. Nobody wants to live as a nation that would treat prisoners as such. The whole world condemned us. Even the Russians sang in that chorus.
I would be proud if my grandsons served in the military. I would worry every moment they were gone. But if they should be taken prisoner of some military conflict or if they should be discovered wounded by the enemy, I insist that they be treated humanely and be protected. I can demand such treatment only if I too grant such safety to theirs. My government puts all of that at risk. How can we demand the honorable treatment of American P.O.W.s or demand that other nations stop torturing people when we established ourselves as being among the purveyors of such horrors.
To garner support and maintain their base, Republicans and former Bush Administration officials constantly bring up two words … “9/11” and “terrorism”. Well, I say neither word scares me any longer because of the greater threat posed by surrendering to the fear.
Israel gives us a prime example as to why we should support the Obama Administration’s efforts to end these horrendous actions and bring them into the light. For more than 50 years, Israelis have answered their neighbors with bombs, bullets, and civil oppression. Nobody says Israel is totally to blame. I argue simply that they chose the wrong path to resolution. Founded because it was time to give Jews a safe place, that nation has since been constantly at war; first with its neighbors and then engaged in a civil war. The problem is that in the process of isolating themselves and dealing with opposition with violence and anger, the nation has changed. It has become the very devil from which its founders ran. The nature of the conflict and the standard Israeli response has changed that society. They are a paranoid people who traded away most of their freedoms and civil rights to be protected. History shows that they are not protected and instead the situation has deteriorated. It is worse than ever. Today, being a Jew is synonymous with being an Israeli and Arab anger toward Israel is now directed at Jews. That is an intolerable outcome.
President Bush and the Republican Party drove America to follow this model. This ‘bring-a-howitzer-to-a-knife-fight’ response has brought on international condemnation. Our expansion of operations angered and created more enemies than were extant at the beginning.
The ideals embodied in the Constitution are greater than the life of a single citizen, or even three thousand of them, as these ideals have to last for 3,000 generations. Born in a time of great national strife, civil unrest, war, economic and political disarray, our constitution was written by men who despite all that hardship and risk, insisted that some rights remained inalienable.
It is time to rise up your fists. It is time to yell and shout and scream. The ends do not justify the means. Staying the torture course sent our ship of State crashing into the rocks.
President Obama did the right thing. End the torture and return America to the great nation she can be. We are not the evildoers we so constantly condemn. The legacy we leave for our children demands nothing less.