Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Please Don't Turn Away From This


We have all been preoccupied with the recent disaster on Wall Street and in trying to second guess what our government will do to try to mitigate the damage. Prior to recent events, both candidates focused a great deal of time talking about alternative forms of energy and the need to break our dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic. The candidates have talked about the things that matter to us here. They've talked about health care, the unemployment rate and education.

I have been surprised that going into this election, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the greatest concern of Americans.

And with the exception of a brief exchange on the use of torture during the debate on Friday, I have been shocked that more Americans have not demanded a commitment from the Presidential Candidates to end all torture including water boarding, to end the practice of extraordinary rendition and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.

When I was stationed in Germany, I took a train ride to Dachau and I toured the Nazi concentration camp there. Most of the original structures had been destroyed, and a few replicas stood in their place. Some crematory ovens remain. The iron gates with the adage "Arbeit Macht Frei" remain. A memorial museum houses thousands of artifacts from the millions who were exterminated: prisoner uniforms, the clothing of men, women and children, and thousands of photographs documenting the incarceration and murder of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill and others.

I gasped out loud and I cried the first time I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib. My mind immediately went to the photographs I saw that day at the Nazi death camp. But these were Americans standing over the naked, beaten, humiliated bodies of other human beings. It was 2004.

None of us knew then what we know now.

When you think about all of the issues that are important to you before you cast your ballot, please think about what America once represented to the rest of the world. Think about the position of moral superiority we, as Americans have always felt when we looked at the inhuman practices and human rights violations we know exist in other, less civilized countries.

The America I was born into does not torture other human beings, nor does it incarcerate them indefinitely without charge.

Please review where your candidate stands on these issues before you cast your ballot.

The following analysis was taken from Citizens for Global Solutions:

ANALYSIS: Obama vs. McCain on Torture

Josh Rovenger
May 29, 2008

(This is the second in a series of papers analyzing the global and foreign policy views of the presumptive presidential nominees and how each candidate may govern as our nation’s next president.)

It’s become quite apparent that Senator Barack Obama is going to do whatever he can to link Senator John McCain to the Bush administration. Obama has labeled the Iraq War, the president’s economic policies, and the president’s foreign policy perspective as the ‘Bush-McCain War’, the ‘Bush-McCain tax cuts’ and the ‘Bush-McCain worldview’, respectively. However, given McCain’s history as a legislature on the issue of torture, and his experience in Vietnam, conventional wisdom would suggest that Obama is going to have a much harder time tying McCain and Bush together on this issue.


The past seven years have been marked by an administration willing to depart from long-standing precedents. While torture has been continuously condemned in this country, the president has virtually sanctioned it. The Bush administration has denied basic legal rights and treatment to detainees at Guantanamo, has approved tougher interrogation techniques towards suspected terrorists and has overseen the brutal treatment of prisoners at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. The administration has also initiated an extraordinary rendition program in which suspected terrorists are sent to countries specifically known for their harsher interrogation techniques. In fact, Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog organization, recently released a scathing report criticizing the administration for not closing down Guantanamo and its failure to ban all torture.


Although Obama and McCain may be closer to one another on the issue than either is to the president, upon further analysis it becomes clear that Obama is going to have a much easier time framing the issue in his favor. Thus far, he has targeted the current president’s policies as fundamentally unacceptable, while McCain has had to walk a fine line, balancing his loyalty to the GOP, his party’s current president and his own personal views and experiences.


On one hand, Barack Obama has consistently made clear that if he’s elected, “we’ll reject torture-without exception or equivocation.” This includes “ending the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” If his rhetoric is any indication of his policies, he is likely to reverse the actions of the Bush administration. He would reject the practice of torture as policy, and his “administration will close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.” The only question that arises on Obama’s position is what his reaction would be in a highly pressured situation. “Now, I will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. And there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals and emergency situations that I will make that judgment at that time.” Ultimately though, he argues “what we cannot do is have the President of the United States state, as a matter of policy, that there is a loophole or an exception where we would sanction torture.”


On the other hand, McCain has historically been one of the staunchest advocates against torture. Although he can claim some success, as of late he’s been placed on the defensive. For instance, in 2005, he spear-headed a successful challenge to President Bush by garnering support for the Detainee Treatment Act. The amendment ensured that “no person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.” Although the legislation does not mention water boarding specifically, McCain has continuously indicated his belief that it is an illegal interrogation method for any governmental agency.


His position seemed even clearer in the 2007 primary debate season when he was the sole dissenter who claimed that, “We do not torture people. It’s not about the terrorists, it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.” On a practical level he added, “The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they’re going to tell you what they think you want to know.” As for Guantanamo Bay he has said, “I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.”


Questions about his position have arisen because of his decision this February to vote against, and support the President’s veto of, legislation that would have applied the army field manual standards to the CIA. This legislation would have limited the CIA’s ability to use controversial interrogation techniques. “I believe that our energies are better directed at ensuring that all techniques, whether used by the military or the CIA, are in full compliance with out international obligations and in accordance with our deepest values. What we need is not to tie the CIA to the army field manual but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program.”


McCain should reconsider his position on this issue. Regardless of whether McCain was correct in his analysis, the real meaning of the vote was its potential symbolism as a challenge to the president’s position on torture. The bill arose after mounting criticism towards the president’s stance on water boarding and acted as a manifestation of this criticism. A vote for the legislation represented a rejection of the president’s position, while a vote against it represented nothing more than a capitulation. While McCain’s position may be coherent and quite nuanced, he would serve his values better by reconsidering the decision he made and incorporating the policy into his platform.


Citizens for Global Solutions believes that torture, in any situation, is fundamentally averse to this country’s deeply rooted values and to the fundamental rights of all humans. It also tremendously weakens our standing and leadership capabilities in the international community. As such, both candidates should continue to speak out against the status quo, and should agree to create an independent bipartisan commission on torture and U.S. interrogation policy to fully dissect and ameliorate the current problems. Obama has said that he would consider such a commission but believes, “we already know how detention and interrogation policy should be handled.” He voted favorably in the 109th Congress to an amendment that would have created a national commission on policies and practices on the treatment of detainees since September 11th, 2001. McCain’s position is not as clear, as he did not vote on the measure, nor has he signified his desire for the creation of such a commission. While the two candidates may not agree on everything in regards to this issue, they come a lot closer to one another than either does to the current president."

6 comments:

steve said...

It's important to remember that the first political prisoners to be sent to Dachau were Communists. The first line of Martin Niemoeller's famous statement, "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist" often gets left out.

Of course, this doesn't diminish the point that you're making. It seems that McCain has done some backsliding in his opposition to torture.

And as far as I know, he has not challenged the Bush Administration's position that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were entirely the fault of low-ranking military police. It seems obvious that higher-ups were involved.

But then, I support Obama for many other reasons.

Elizabeth said...

I'm new to your blog and really enjoy it! Thanks so much for the thoughful posts. I look forward to more!

Lisa said...

Steve, Thanks for the reminder about Dachau. I don't know if I forgot that or maybe I never knew, but I am familiar with that famous quote. I sort of hated to put this post together because of the subject matter, but I think the torture, the extraordinary rendition and the detaining of prisoners without Habeus Corpus (is that even right?) has got to be the darkest part of this administration's legacy. I don't know how we can ever regain any respect with the rest of the world without making sure this is addressed. I'm sure people would rather not think about this, but I think it would be unconscionable for us to forget. This is still going on.

Elizabeth, I am so glad that you came by! I have just spent a long time reading posts at your place and I will be a regular visitor. Thank you so much and I hope to see more of you here. :)

debra said...

My father-in-law was one of the first troops to enter Buchenwald concentration camp at the end of WWII. He is still haunted by the memories.
This TEDtalk is about the psychology of evil--how ordinary people become monsters or heroes.
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html

Usman said...

Great Post Lisa.
Gitmo must go. If the next US President can do that,m it'll be the start of how the world thinks about the US.

Lisa said...

Debra, I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for those who arrived first to liberate the camps. I haven't watched the TED video yet (still watching post debate discussion), but I am going to -- I am sure I have read about Philip Zimbardo's research on torture and it is chilling to think how easily completely average, normal people can engage in inflicting pain on other human beings. Thanks for the link and thank you for raising this issue in the comments of an earlier post.

Usman, Gitmo must go, the practice of extraordinary rendition must stop, and detainees must be charged with something or released. These activities shame me more as an American than nearly anything else my country has done over these last eight years. Perhaps I feel the shame more keenly as a military veteran who used to believe she wore a uniform to defend our citizens and our allies from these kinds of human rights violations.

I believe Congress has stopped the Department of Defense from using interrogation techniques that would be considered torture, but the CIA, which is not part of the DoD has not been restricted and therefore, I assume they are still water boarding and using other unacceptable "interrogation techniques".

Obama supports a complete ban on torture, but McCain balked at restricting the CIA.

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