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President Obama Must Really Order An Investigation of Torture Program

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Message Nathan Nahm

Torture is not only morally repugnant but it also seems useless as an effective means of interrogation.  Its most typical or predominant use certainly appears not in obtaining useful information for military or national security, as claimed by its proponents, but rather in attempting to extract false information from a prisoner for propaganda purposes.  A good example is the Chinese use of torture of American soldiers to obtain a false confession that the US government used germ warfare during the Korean War.  The Chinese already knew that the US troops did not use germ warfare because they did not have any evidence.  If they had evidence, they would have used that evidence to accuse the US government of germ warfare.  But since they did not have any evidence, they had to create one and that’s where they had to resort to torturing US soldiers in their captivity.  Similarly, the Nazis, the Soviet Union and other police states historically used torture predominantly on innocent people to obtain false confessions to aid their propaganda and other political purposes. 


As documented in the infamous case of the French government’s torture of Henri Alleg, the editor of the communist paper, Alger Republicain, during the Algerian War in 1957, a brutal torture is useless against a determined prisoner, whether the prisoner has any useful information to divulge or not.  (See Torture and the Twilight of Empire: from Algiers to Baghdad, by Marnia Lazreg, Chapter 9)  In contrast, it is highly effective against innocent victims, as a means of coercing false information that a corrupt government needs or wants for political purposes or to frighten its general population into silence, as demonstrated by extensive use of torture by corrupt dictatorships and police states in the past.  Perhaps we, too, should not be surprised if a full investigation were to show that the Bush/Cheney administration may have used torture, at least, in part, deliberately to obtain information to build the false WMD story for invasion of Iraq. 


All tortures only demean not only the victims as subhuman but also the perpetrators and, ultimately, all people of the communities to which the victims and perpetrators belong.  We as citizens of the United States should be proud that our predecessors had the vision to see the inhumanity of torture and the courage to initiate the worldwide effort to brand all torture as war crime and crime against humanity.  All international conventions, as well as our domestic laws, banning torture and mandating full investigation of any allegations of torture were established by the initiatives and efforts of the representatives of our own government.  Thus, the Bush/Cheney administration’s record of reversing this honorable and proud legacy of our government is an unconscionable travesty of justice and an insult to our national moral legacy and legal precedent.  To cleanse this unacceptable blemish and stigma on our national soul and heritage, it is imperative that President Obama order a meaningful investigation and prosecution of at least the leading members who instituted the Bush/Cheney administration’s torture program, whose existence has been demonstrated through public documents.  Without this national soul searching and rectification, no economic stimulus or revival would mean much to this country.     

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Nathan Nahm is a retired New York lawyer.

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