Torture Awareness Month

Speaking in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last Wednesday former President George W. Bush appeared to take personal responsibility for the decision to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.”

The former President’s comments remove any lingering doubt that may have remained that torture was sanctioned at the highest level of his administration.

The lack of public outcry at his remarks demonstrates all too clearly how for most Americans torture has become an acceptable tool in America’s counter-terrorism arsenal.

Prior to September 11th waterboarding was unequivocally regarded as torture in American jurisprudence. Sleep deprivation was a tool used by Stalin’s secret police. Mock executions were associated with Hollywood villains not Congressional candidates.

Then everything changed. People got scared and unscrupulous politicians sold the idea that thuggish criminality was the only route to public safety. In reality, we got less safe not more. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo created droves of new recruits for Al Qaeda and got hundreds, if not thousands, of American servicemen and women killed.

America’s decision to turn to the dark side, as Dick Cheney memorably put it, alienated our allies and made it difficult for foreign governments to work with us. It has made them more likely to withhold vital intelligence and less likely to work alongside US troops. This also makes us less safe.

We need to reboot. The election of President Obama seemed to offer that opportunity but he let it slip away. Like Dick Cheney during the Vietnam War – the President had other priorities and now torture is slowly creeping back into the mainstream.

In the past months reports have surfaced that US personnel are using sleep deprivation, enforced isolation and physical violence on prisoners held in a secret screening facility in Bagram, Afghanistan.

We have seen this movie before. Abuse inevitably escalates and America’s reputation will just as inevitably be further tarnished.

There was a time in America when torture was considered beyond the pale. The landmark 1980 case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala opened the way for foreign torturers to be pursued in US courts. The panel of American judges that heard the case commented:

“For the purposes of civil liability the torturer has become – like the pirate and the slave trader before him – hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.”

I don’t know about you but I miss that America. However, it wasn’t destroyed by Osama bin Laden but by those who made political capital out of the 9/11 tragedy and by the rest of us who let them.

The Soccer World Cup is not the only global event happening this month. June is international torture awareness month. Amnesty is calling on its supporters to sign up to host an event to raise awareness that torture remains a central issue in American public life.

We cannot claim America has changed until we confront this issue and lay it to rest. Torture is both illegal and morally abhorrent. Just societies do not use it. Period. We need to send our government the message that they cannot just look the other way.

We need to reestablish the norm against torture in American politics. But we can’t do it without you. You need to raise your voice. So please get involved in torture awareness month and help rebuild an America we can all believe in.

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30 thoughts on “Torture Awareness Month

  1. Not that I support torture by any means, but you make it sound as if all the other countries that "are less likely to share intelligence" with us because of our admitted use of torture are somehow above it themselves. I don't know if I actually believe that sentiment.

  2. Not that I support torture by any means, but you make it sound as if all the other countries that “are less likely to share intelligence” with us because of our admitted use of torture are somehow above it themselves. I don’t know if I actually believe that sentiment.

  3. Joe, this is not an assertion you have to take on trust – the public record is pretty clear. Italy has convicted 23 CIA officers in absentia for their part in kidnapping an Egyptian cleric in Milan. Magistrates in both Germany and Spain have initiated criminal investigations into US intelligence activities. But perhaps the best example comes from America's closest ally, the United Kingdom. In 2007 the Heads of both MI5 and MI6 told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that they have had to change the way that they work with US counterparts because of concerns of potential criminal liability. You can read their comments at http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/rendition.pdf

  4. Joe, this is not an assertion you have to take on trust – the public record is pretty clear. Italy has convicted 23 CIA officers in absentia for their part in kidnapping an Egyptian cleric in Milan. Magistrates in both Germany and Spain have initiated criminal investigations into US intelligence activities. But perhaps the best example comes from America's closest ally, the United Kingdom. In 2007 the Heads of both MI5 and MI6 told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that they have had to change the way that they work with US counterparts because of concerns of potential criminal liability. You can read their comments at http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/rendition.pdf

  5. Joe, this is not an assertion you have to take on trust – the public record is pretty clear. Italy has convicted 23 CIA officers in absentia for their part in kidnapping an Egyptian cleric in Milan. Magistrates in both Germany and Spain have initiated criminal investigations into US intelligence activities. But perhaps the best example comes from America's closest ally, the United Kingdom. In 2007 the Heads of both MI5 and MI6 told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that they have had to change the way that they work with US counterparts because of concerns of potential criminal liability. You can read their comments at http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/rendition.pdf

  6. Joe, this is not an assertion you have to take on trust – the public record is pretty clear. Italy has convicted 23 CIA officers in absentia for their part in kidnapping an Egyptian cleric in Milan. Magistrates in both Germany and Spain have initiated criminal investigations into US intelligence activities. But perhaps the best example comes from America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom. In 2007 the Heads of both MI5 and MI6 told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that they have had to change the way that they work with US counterparts because of concerns of potential criminal liability. You can read their comments at http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/rendition.pdf

  7. I am not a supporter of heinous torture such dismemberment; however if waterboarding saved American lives and wishes to difine water boarding as torture then I am for torture. Good for President GW Bush!

  8. I am not a supporter of heinous torture such dismemberment; however if waterboarding saved American lives and wishes to difine water boarding as torture then I am for torture. Good for President GW Bush!

  9. Don't you get it John, torture doesn't save American lives, it endangers them. Maybe read the article one more time.

  10. Don’t you get it John, torture doesn’t save American lives, it endangers them. Maybe read the article one more time.

  11. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that does not draw blood or maim someone. It is not pulling fingernails, detaching fingers or toes, using electric prods on genitals or worse causing such physical that the outcome is death.

    Waterboarding was proved to have saved American lives from the information extracted. No one died from waterboarding in American hands. On the otherhand an Islamic terrorist's information foiled Islamic terrorist plans to kill Americans. So tell me again how waterboarding destroyed lives more than saved them?

  12. Hi John,
    How did waterboarding destroy American lives? Read this quote from Matthew Alexander–a real military interrogator who worked in Iraq:

    "Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

    -Matthew Alexander, leader of an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006.
    Source: Washington Post

  13. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that does not draw blood or maim someone. It is not pulling fingernails, detaching fingers or toes, using electric prods on genitals or worse causing such physical that the outcome is death.

    Waterboarding was proved to have saved American lives from the information extracted. No one died from waterboarding in American hands. On the otherhand an Islamic terrorist’s information foiled Islamic terrorist plans to kill Americans. So tell me again how waterboarding destroyed lives more than saved them?

  14. Hi John,
    How did waterboarding destroy American lives? Read this quote from Matthew Alexander–a real military interrogator who worked in Iraq:

    “Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”

    -Matthew Alexander, leader of an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006.
    Source: Washington Post

  15. Zeke I am afraid what you learned was the gullibility of journalists to the propaganda of radical Islam who indeed perpetuated torture. Foreign insurgents were inspired by Islamic faith also have been duped by Radical Islamic propaganda. The main reason for foreign insurgency and AQI failure is due to the awakening by the indigenous population that the real torture was occuring by the Radical Islamic terrorists attempting institute the purist view of Islam. Fortunately a majority of Muslims disdain the purist view yet they still hate the occupation. Eventually Islamic terrorist torture and murder (which was significantly at a higher level than waterboarding) which was intended to strike fear or place the blame on Occupation forces. The closest thing to torture by Americans was the act of humiliation on terrorist suspects in an Iraqi prison or waterboarding at Gitmo. NO physical harm, maiming or deaths occured at American hands as did and do occur at the hands of Islamic terrorists (inculcated by foreign "insurgents") in Iraq. The Iraqi awakening to who does the torture in Iraq has made radical Islamic movements in Iraq to become more hated than Occupation Forces.

  16. Sadly John, more than 100 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn't propaganda, or credulous reporting, it is well-established fact. You can read US military autopsy reports on some of these deaths obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act suit at the following site: http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/10240…. Causes of death include repeated incidents of blunt force trauma, choking in restraints, strangulation, and unprovoked shooting. There is no question that insurgent crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly heinous but we're supposed to be better than that.

  17. Sadly John, more than 100 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn't propaganda, or credulous reporting, it is well-established fact. You can read US military autopsy reports on some of these deaths obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act suit at the following site: http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/10240…. Causes of death include repeated incidents of blunt force trauma, choking in restraints, strangulation, and unprovoked shooting. There is no question that insurgent crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly heinous but we're supposed to be better than that.

  18. Sadly John, more than 100 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn't propaganda, or credulous reporting, it is well-established fact. You can read US military autopsy reports on some of these deaths obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act suit at the following site: http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/10240…. Causes of death include repeated incidents of blunt force trauma, choking in restraints, strangulation, and unprovoked shooting. There is no question that insurgent crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly heinous but we're supposed to be better than that.

  19. Zeke I am afraid what you learned was the gullibility of journalists to the propaganda of radical Islam who indeed perpetuated torture. Foreign insurgents were inspired by Islamic faith also have been duped by Radical Islamic propaganda. The main reason for foreign insurgency and AQI failure is due to the awakening by the indigenous population that the real torture was occuring by the Radical Islamic terrorists attempting institute the purist view of Islam. Fortunately a majority of Muslims disdain the purist view yet they still hate the occupation. Eventually Islamic terrorist torture and murder (which was significantly at a higher level than waterboarding) which was intended to strike fear or place the blame on Occupation forces. The closest thing to torture by Americans was the act of humiliation on terrorist suspects in an Iraqi prison or waterboarding at Gitmo. NO physical harm, maiming or deaths occured at American hands as did and do occur at the hands of Islamic terrorists (inculcated by foreign “insurgents”) in Iraq. The Iraqi awakening to who does the torture in Iraq has made radical Islamic movements in Iraq to become more hated than Occupation Forces.

  20. Sadly John, more than 100 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn’t propaganda, or credulous reporting, it is well-established fact. You can read US military autopsy reports on some of these deaths obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act suit at the following site: http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/102405/. Causes of death include repeated incidents of blunt force trauma, choking in restraints, strangulation, and unprovoked shooting. There is no question that insurgent crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly heinous but we’re supposed to be better than that.

  21. With this disgusting piece of evidence of evil torture perpetuated by American Intelligence, Military or both; I still stand by waterboarding as an effective tool in interrogation. In fact waterboarding should have been used rather than the brutal torture that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that waterboarding was the tool of choice at Gitmo rather than the medieval torture copied from radical Muslims.

    In saying that waterboarding (or sleep deprivation or loud music or whatever non-maiming interrogation technique) is a tool that should be used, I have to join the Slanted Left that some kind of criminal investigation and prosecution needs to occur concerning real torture such as physical maiming or acts leading to death. That is a shameful thing for a nation to participate in.

    Here is a full elaboration at my blog at SlantRight.com: http://www.slantright.com/index.php?name=News&amp

  22. With this disgusting piece of evidence of evil torture perpetuated by American Intelligence, Military or both; I still stand by waterboarding as an effective tool in interrogation. In fact waterboarding should have been used rather than the brutal torture that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that waterboarding was the tool of choice at Gitmo rather than the medieval torture copied from radical Muslims.

    In saying that waterboarding (or sleep deprivation or loud music or whatever non-maiming interrogation technique) is a tool that should be used, I have to join the Slanted Left that some kind of criminal investigation and prosecution needs to occur concerning real torture such as physical maiming or acts leading to death. That is a shameful thing for a nation to participate in.

    Here is a full elaboration at my blog at SlantRight.com: http://www.slantright.com/index.php?name=News&amp

  23. With this disgusting piece of evidence of evil torture perpetuated by American Intelligence, Military or both; I still stand by waterboarding as an effective tool in interrogation. In fact waterboarding should have been used rather than the brutal torture that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that waterboarding was the tool of choice at Gitmo rather than the medieval torture copied from radical Muslims.

    In saying that waterboarding (or sleep deprivation or loud music or whatever non-maiming interrogation technique) is a tool that should be used, I have to join the Slanted Left that some kind of criminal investigation and prosecution needs to occur concerning real torture such as physical maiming or acts leading to death. That is a shameful thing for a nation to participate in.

    Here is a full elaboration at my blog at SlantRight.com: http://www.slantright.com/index.php?name=News&amp

  24. With this disgusting piece of evidence of evil torture perpetuated by American Intelligence, Military or both; I still stand by waterboarding as an effective tool in interrogation. In fact waterboarding should have been used rather than the brutal torture that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that waterboarding was the tool of choice at Gitmo rather than the medieval torture copied from radical Muslims.

    In saying that waterboarding (or sleep deprivation or loud music or whatever non-maiming interrogation technique) is a tool that should be used, I have to join the Slanted Left that some kind of criminal investigation and prosecution needs to occur concerning real torture such as physical maiming or acts leading to death. That is a shameful thing for a nation to participate in.

    Here is a full elaboration at my blog at SlantRight.com: http://www.slantright.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2485

  25. I think John missed it the first time around, so again here's what an actual, real US miltiary interrogator said about US torture:

    “Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”

    -Matthew Alexander, leader of an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006.
    Source: Washington Post

  26. I think John missed it the first time around, so again here’s what an actual, real US miltiary interrogator said about US torture:

    “Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”

    -Matthew Alexander, leader of an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006.
    Source: Washington Post