The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has become al-Qaida's most effective recruiting tool. In a culture that still nurses a centuries-old grudge over the atrocities of the Crusaders, it will take a very long time before the images of Abu Ghraib and Fallujah are erased from the collective memories of Muslim Arabs.
That is why it is critically important that the United States takes the first step toward rehabilitating its image by adopting more restrictive rules against the CIA euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation techniques," or what the rest of the civilized world calls torture.
We've all seen the photos from Abu Ghraib. As shocking as they were, there are worse photos and videos from that prison that remain locked away by the Pentagon because the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of prisoners they document is too horrible for public consumption.
But Abu Ghraib seems humane compared to what The Washington Post revealed a couple of weeks ago about secret CIA prisons used to detain and torture al-Qaida prisoners.
On Sept. 17, 2001, a week after 9/11, President Bush signed a secret executive order authorizing the CIA to kill, capture or detain al-Qaida operatives.
The problem was where to stash hundreds of prisoners and how to apply "enhanced interrogation" away from the prying eyes of the International Red Cross and Amnesty International. The solution was to set up secret prisons in other countries. Ironically enough, some of these counties where the prisons are located were former members of the Soviet Bloc.
No wonder the Bush administration bristled at the use of the word "gulag" to describe conditions in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Like the Soviets we long railed against, we set up our own gulags to imprison and torture our enemies in secret. And the Republicans seem more outraged that the existence of the American gulags was reported than they were outraged that the United States is imprisoning and torturing people in secret.
To add to the shame of the United States being engaged in this type of behavior is that the CIA and many senior members of the Bush administration are lobbying Congress to allow it to continue.
There is legislation now making its way through Congress that would prohibit American soldiers and intelligence personnel from subjecting prisoners to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment. The Bush administration is doing everything it can to block this legislation.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is one of the people pushing for the anti-torture legislation. As a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he knows too well about torture and cruel and inhuman treatment. One of the biggest opponents of the legislation is Vice President Dick Cheney, a man who sought multiple draft deferments to avoid going to Vietnam. The contrast speaks volumes.
The Republican Party seems unconcerned that it is now seen as the party of torture. They seem equally unconcerned about due process, respecting the Constitution and international treaties and agreements, and simple morality.
Why is torture even subject to debate? If the United States is to legitimately claim to be moral, how can it engage in such behavior and defend it as being necessary?
All one has to do is conjure up the images of Abu Ghraib and substitute American faces for the Iraqis being tortured. How long would the United States tolerate its citizens being treated like that?
So what makes our present leaders think that the rest of the world will tolerate Americans treating its prisoners like that?
This is a chance for the United States to start reclaiming its moral stature in the world. A ban on torture would be a good start. The Bush administration should step aside and go along with something that can only help this nation recover the values it discarded in the name of fighting terrorism.
Unless, of course, the GOP really wants to campaign in next year's elections as the party of torture and indefinite secret detention.