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Bush Flip-Flops on Torture and Endangers Us All

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After the photos from Abu Ghraib sickened the nation and the world last year, George W. Bush assured us that it was merely the work of "a few bad apples". He told us that "this country does not believe in torture."

In fact, on June 26, 2004, in a statement commemorating the U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Bush proclaimed that "freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law."

Those are some noble words, George. But talk is cheap.

If Bush stands so firmly against torture, why then has he threatened to veto a defense spending bill if that bill includes Senator John McCain's amendment that expressly prohibits the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any detainee held by the United States government?

And if, as Bush insists, "this country does not believe in torture," why has Vice President Dick Cheney (emphasis on "Vice") been spending so much time lobbying Congress to exempt the CIA from any anti-torture legislation?

It seems that the real "bad apples" are a bit farther up the tree than they would like us to believe.

With these efforts to legitimize torture, the Bush administration is further damaging our country's reputation while also putting our own citizens at risk. How could we expect an enemy to refrain from torturing any U.S. soldier or civilian who might be captured, when we have set the trend?

Some Americans believe that torture is sometimes necessary to protect us from terrorism. They like to raise the "ticking time bomb" scenario, in which a bomb is set to explode in minutes, and the captured terrorist refuses to divulge the bomb's location. These people claim that torture would be justified in this situation, if it could force the terrorist to divulge the bomb's location. Because of the many lives that would be saved, they say, the ends would justify the means.

That dramatic scenario may work in a TV movie, but not in real life. Intelligence experts have said that it usually takes at least 24 hours to "break" a prisoner to the point where he will tell the truth (if he will tell the truth at all). In the meantime, a prisoner under torture will often say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear, just to make the pain stop. And some prisoners will remain silent under torture indefinitely, as an act of defiance or self-discipline (or simply because they're innocent and have no useful information to give).

That aside, shouldn't the United States of America be above that sort of thing? The Bush administration cited Saddam Hussein's brutal torture practices as a justification for invading Iraq. How much weight does that argument carry when we ourselves torture our Iraqi prisoners - and in the same prison where Saddam did his dirty work?

I was raised to regard the United States as a champion of democracy and human rights. Indeed, that is how much of the world saw us until very recently. Now we are viewed as torturers, and our actions have sparked a new generation of terrorists who seek revenge for their tortured brethren.

The "war on terror" cannot be won this way.

We would do well to keep in mind the words of Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, who said: "Torture never makes the world safer, only more hideous."

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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