By Chris Cronin
Elm Staff Writer
Torture is unequivocally wrong. There is no valid excuse which allows an American to torture another human being, regardless of their crimes. The eighth amendment specifically bans “cruel and unusual punishment,” not because the founding fathers thought that American citizens should be exempt from being tortured, but because they believed that it was a fundamentally inhumane process.
The founders knew that torture was often used to extract confessions from prisoners in the very nations that they had left behind in Europe. America is a country that since its very founding has been based upon the rule of law, where the accused are innocent until proven guilty, and even those convicted of crimes are expected to be treated humanely. In 1994, the United States ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture, which specifically outlaws “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” to gain information, extract a confession, or deliver punishment.
It was with great sadness and disturbance, therefore, that I witnessed a distressing turn in the recent Republican debate. Candidates Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry all asserted that they would support the re-introduction of waterboarding, which they euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Of the primary candidates, only Ron Paul and John Huntsman specifically condemned waterboarding as torture, and both are longshots for the presidential nomination. The remaining candidates, including frontrunner Mitt Romney, stayed silent in the face of Bachmann, Cain and Perry’s remarks.
Make no mistake—whether you use the euphemism or not, waterboarding is torture. The technique is intended to make the victim feel like they are slowly drowning to death. Waterboarding has been used by the Gestapo, the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, and by the Khmer Rouge during the genocide in Cambodia. Its use by the George W. Bush Administration was a black mark upon America’s moral authority and world image, and even more damningly, was deemed ineffective in extracting information.
The idea that the technique should be used because terrorists threaten American lives is deplorable. Even during the Vietnam War, American generals specifically outlawed the practice, and a soldier who was photographed waterboarding an enemy combatant was swiftly court-martialed and forced out of the Army.
On waterboarding, Perry said that “this is war,” and when asked if such techniques should continue to be used, he replied that “I will defend them until I die.” War is not new, and it is certainly not unique to our country. Many countries have felt that they needed to compromise their ideals to fight a difficult enemy. But the United States of America is a special case. America was the first country to be founded not for a specific ethnicity, but for specific values. We are not a country with ideals, but a country of ideals. The very nature of this grand experiment is based upon radical notions of freedom, justice and morality. The moment we compromise our ideals, we tear at the fabric of what makes this country so great. In the end, we would inflict more damage upon ourselves than any terrorist possibly could.