We're supposed to be better than that. We grew up believing that the United States of America set a higher standard, even in the way we conducted war.
Now, our political leaders in Washington, D.C., are trashing our reputation on a worldwide scale. In an event that is all but unimaginable, Vice President Dick Cheney is personally leading a fight to crush legislation that would ban the torture of prisoners in American custody. He has appealed to Republican Senators to allow an exemption for the Central Intelligence Agency when it comes to torture. In other words, torture would be considered OK if the CIA does the dirty work.
Ironically, a fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sponsored the amendment to ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. To its credit, the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate backed McCain's call to ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of prisoners with a decisive 90-9 vote.
Everyone paying attention has seen the hideous photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Yet the nation was assured that these atrocious deeds were just the acts of a misguided few bad apples. In those cases, it seems that the problem was indeed not primarily with the American soldiers on the ground, but rather with civilian "contractors" who came in and told the troops how they wanted the prisoners under their control handled. Were they CIA?
In its Nov. 2 edition, The Washington Post reported that the CIA set up and is operating secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where terror suspects were being held, and, presumably, being "leaned on" pretty heavily to get them to "talk."
How can our leaders deny there is abuse occurring when the graphic photos come out; the reports of secret prisons are published; and the Vice President of the United Sates makes an issue out of keeping our torture options open?
In any case, by seeking an exemption that allows torture of suspects, we lose our moral standing in the world. We sacrifice our pride. We risk becoming what we are supposed to be fighting against. And from a purely pragmatic point of view, information gained through torture is widely believed to be unreliable. Further, by engaging in sinister tactics, we almost certainly create more opposition to our country around the world. How could that ever hope to make us more secure?
Last week, while he was in Panama, President Bush stated: "We do not torture." But his threat to veto legislation that contains a ban on torture, and Cheney's CIA exemption request, makes the disclaimer simply ring hollow.
This is not the way our America is supposed to be.