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Politically Incorrect

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Torture leaves us with only shame

Let me start by saying I don’t like George Bush Jr. I didn’t like him as Governor of Texas and I like him even less as President of the United States. That said, what I’m about to talk about is non-partisan, because while the blame for it can be laid at the feet of Bush and the people he chose to run this country, the blame can equally be laid at the feet of Congress, those Republicans and Democrats alike who refuse to step up to their responsibilities.

Worse, the blame can be laid at the feet of the person you see in the mirror every morning. This country may be a Republic, but an outraged and vocal citizenry can make changes if they ever decide to make their wishes known. That they haven’t yet is frightening, for if they don’t, if we don’t, I fear our future will include a shame we’ll feel a long time.

The blame I’m talking about is for Abu Ghraib. The name of this prison is shorthand, now, for torture, but the abuses made public at this facility not far from Baghdad are hardly limited to those walls – similar allegations have surfaced at prisons elsewhere in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo Bay. No one knows what’s happening at the  “secret” prisons our military acknowledges having.

What we do know is happening, what we’ve seen in the photographs, is bad enough. These are actions described by Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. What we haven’t seen yet is even worse, are, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns us, “. . .  going to get still more terrible, I’m afraid.”

Still more terrible, of course, is the abuse of children. Rape of both males and females, torture… who would do this to children, who would allow it to be done? And who thought it would be a good idea to videotape it all? 

Opposing this torture is not a partisan issue, though many comments denouncing opposition to torture as “unpatriotic,” and “not supportive of our troops,” come from those on the right. As Senator James Inhofe (Rep.-Okla.) put it, he is “outraged by the outrage.” We all know by now that conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh likens torture to “frat party pranks” but the left is represented in this litany of shame as well – it was Senator Joe Lieberman (Dem.- Conn.), who stated that, while apologies for the abuse at Abu Ghraib were deserved, added, “Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq… never apologized.” His mother obviously never taught him that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Thankfully, there are staunch opponents of torture who are willing to stand for what is morally good and true. Senator John McCain (Rep.- Okla.) said, “If al Qaeda beheads kidnapped Americans, some argue, why must we be bound to treat detained members of al Qaeda humanely? When the principle of reciprocity does not apply, we must instead remember the principles by which our nation conducts its affairs. America is a nation of laws, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard than those of the terrorists. We distinguish ourselves from our enemies by our treatment of our enemies. Were we to abandon the principles of wartime conduct to which we have freely committed ourselves, we would lose the moral standing that has made America unique in the world.” McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, knows about the morality of torture.

That moral standing is something on which President Bush, who claims he reads his Bible every day, prides himself. I would have more faith in his morality were he to act on what his Savior taught him instead of just reading about it. Attitude reflects leadership. Soldiers charged with abuses at Abu Graib state they were “following orders.” That’s no defense – there are some orders you just don’t obey. But Taguba’s report showed clearly the abuse was much more than the work of a “few bad apples.” It is imperative for Americans that we follow the chain of command all the way to the point where those “orders” originated, even if those origins lead directly to the White House. It is imperative for Americans that we do this now, not at some point “after the elections,” which only suggests torture is nothing more than a political issue after all. It is imperative that we, the American public, make sure our elected representatives understand that in no way, for no reason, is it ever acceptable to torture, rape and murder, and certainly not acceptable to do such things to children.

As Senator Lindsey Graham (Rep.- S.C.) reminded us, “The American public needs to understand... We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience; we're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges."

Mark Hanson, of the Practical Ethics Center at the University of Montana, said, “Outrage over the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, therefore, is not the expression of a liberal political agenda. Those who wish to join Senator Inhofe in expressing outrage at what he called “humanitarian do-gooders” might recall that humanitarian reasons are all that remain of our government’s case for going to war. That’s what distinguishes us from terrorists, after all.”

Back in June of 2003, President Bush said that, “the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example…” I suggest we all should be ashamed of the example we’ve set, no matter what our party affiliation. It’s time we live up to those words the President spoke. It’s time we deal with this issue once and for all. When Jesus said to “love your enemies,” I don’t think he had rape and sodomy in mind.

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Landon Otis

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torture, Abu Ghraib

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