America and Waterboarding: Republicans Response is Reprehensible

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.

5 Comments

  1. despite what people think waterboarding continued under obama. nothing changed at gitmo. perhaps we should, at this time, try to spread the word about Dr. Paul, so we can restore america and bring this country back to the values and greatness from which it has departed as of late.

  2. Torture is certainly wrong, and the US is almost alone among developed countries in not recognising this.

    But why the claim that the US is such a special case? You state the America was the first country to be founded not for a specific ethnicity, but for specific values. This is wrong in several obvious ways. Firstly, many countries were founded long before America around “specific values” rather than ethnicity (the Ottoman Empire is a clear example of a multiethnic country forged around specific values). Secondly, the US had racism and slavery built straight into the Constitution – America was in fact founded on ethnic privilege.

    A major cause of the problem you address is the idea of American Exceptionalism. If people accept the premise that America is special, that allows for accepting behaviour that would be unacceptable from other countries, and of allowing exceptional acts to defend an exceptional country. In short, by invoking American Exceptionalism you may be contributing to the basic ideas that allow some to accept torture. Better to look around the world today and consider America as just another developed country, falling behind others in the struggle to reach civilised behaviour.

  3. Thanks for the article! I voted for Ron Paul in 2008 and I will do it again. He has been the only one to speak the truth for decades, even if it hurt and wasn’t popular. Let’s hope America keeps waking up and soon! Glad to see an article that actually mentions Dr. Paul and in a positive light too. He predicted the housing and market crashes, I was fortunate enough to find him in time to save my 401K, well until the Fed completely debases the dollar anyway.

  4. Bachmann went beyond just endorsing torture … referring to President Truman she said that she would gladly kill 5000 Japanese people to save one American life. In other words, mass murder is okay in the name of nationalism. The fact that the media allows Bachmann to make such deeply disturbing, essentially fascist comments without hounding her right off the national political stage is depressing. There has to be someone in the media who says enough to her lies and exaggerations and disinvites her to future Presidential debates. I hope the people of Minnesota retire her from public life for good.

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